Mediocrity rules the classrooms of U.S. middle schools. Academic competition is discouraged. The curriculum is watered down, and academic expectations are low.
Those are the troubling trends in middle school education described in no- punches-pulled fashion by Minnesota's education chief, Cheri Pierson Yecke, in her new book, The War Against Excellence: The Rising Tide of Mediocrity in America's Middle Schools.
Drawing on her experience as an award-winning middle and high school teacher, a state education official, and a director of teacher quality and public school choice for the U.S. Department of Education, Ms. Yecke contends that the move away from excellence in most middle school classrooms began in the 1980s. That was when, she writes, that grouping of children by ability began to be discouraged and was replaced with "'cooperative learning,' where a few students do all the work and everyone shared the grade."
Today's nationwide movement for standards and accountability offers hope for reversing the problems plaguing middle schools, she argues.
The book is published in hardcover by Praeger Publishers.
Though its bound to make waves in the education world, Ms. Yecke argues that the problems the book details are not new.
Respected scholars began documenting the move away from excellence in middle schools by the early 1990s, she said, but their warnings were largely ignored until American middle school students performed poorly on an international achievement test in 1995 and again in 1999.
The Third International Mathematics and Science Study, showed American students were holding their own against students from 41 countries in 4th grade in science and math performance, but lagging seriously by the time they reached 8th and 9th grade.
Ms. Yecke said she spent seven years researching and writing the book, mainly in an effort to understand how to better meet the needs of academically gifted middle school students.
"As a mother and a middle school teacher," Ms. Yecke says in a statement, "I had experienced firsthand the frustrations of trying to meet the intellectual needs of all children, especially those of high ability with strong motivation at the middle school level."
—Darcia Harris Bowman
Vol. 23, Issue 14, Page 16Published in Print: December 3, 2003, as State Journal