Middle School Reforms Still Elusive Despite Changes, NASSP Survey Finds

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LAS VEGAS--Although the ranks of middle-level school administrators have become somewhat more diverse in the past decade and the grade structure in a majority of such schools has changed, reforms associated with the middle schools movement are far from standard practice, a survey of 570 middle-level school leaders reveals.

The study, released here last week by the National Association of Secondary School Principals at its annual conference, is the third in a series of surveys of middle-level school leaders. The first was conducted in 1966 and the second in 1981.

The new study found that more women are becoming junior high or middle school principals. In addition, 70 percent of those surveyed said they have formed "leadership teams'' at their schools, and a majority said they are using technology to manage their schools' affairs.

Despite such advances, many of the respondents said that instructional practices that ought to be dropped remain entrenched, and that others that should be adopted remain unused.

For example, 82 percent of the principals, assistant principals, and team leaders surveyed said the widely criticized practice of ability grouping is still in place at their schools--down by only 6 percentage points from 1981.

At the same time, reforms associated with the middle schools movement appear far from universal. Fifty-five percent of the survey respondents said their schools have adopted exploratory programs; 36 percent have adopted interdisciplinary programs, team teaching, and intramural sports; and 30 percent have implemented counseling and cocurricular programs.

"Some of the progress we have made in the middle grades has been superficial,'' James W. Keefe, NASSP's director of research and one of the authors of the report, said in an interview.

Still, he added, the movement away from junior high schools in favor of middle schools clearly has taken hold.

Pattern Reversed

The report states that "grade organizational patterns have almost reversed since 1966.''

Only 15 percent of middle-level schools now use the junior high pattern of grades 7-9, compared with 67 percent in 1966. Sixty-five percent of such schools now encompass grades 5-8, the majority of which span grades 6-8--compared with 5 percent that were composed of grades 6-8 in 1966.

The change in grade patterns may be the cause of increases in both student attendance and parent involvement during the past decade, the report speculates. Average daily attendance in middle-level schools increased from 79 percent in 1981 to 90 percent in 1992, while reported levels of parent involvement rose from 30 percent to 48 percent.

Significant changes have also occurred in the composition of the middle-level schools' instructional ranks, the survey found.

Eighty-six percent of teachers in the middle grades are women. About 20 percent of the principals of middle-grades schools are women, compared with only 5 percent in both 1966 and 1981.

Racial and ethnic minorities have made far smaller gains in middle-level school administration, however. Only 6 percent of principals today are African-American and only 2 percent are Hispanic.

Preparation Termed Shallow

Although a large percentage of middle-level school administrators have earned advanced degrees, few principals and even fewer teachers have middle-level certification, according to the survey.

Only 11 percent of the teachers in the schools of the administrators surveyed have middle-level certification, according to the report, which suggests that they "have received little specific preparation for teaching early adolescents.''

The percentage of administrators participating in staff-development programs, university courses, and personal study in their field has increased slightly since 1981, the survey found. The report's authors also said they were surprised by a 26 percent decline since 1981 in the number of teachers who had completed student-teaching programs in middle-level schools.

NASSP plans to release a second report, focusing on successful programs in middle-level schools, next year.

Copies of the "National Study of Leadership in Middle Level Education'' can be obtained for $12 each from NASSP, Publication Sales, 1904 Association Drive, Reston, Va. 22091; (703) 860-0200.

Vol. 12, Issue 21

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