School & District Management

Md. Panel Urges Tougher Middle School Academics

By Debra Viadero — May 12, 1999 2 min read

A shot of academic rigor and better, more targeted teacher training may be the tonic for Maryland’s middle schools, according to a state committee.

As it previewed its thinking this month for the state school board, the Maryland Learning Years Task Force joined a growing number of educators nationwide calling for a second, more critical look at the middle school movement.

In Maryland and the rest of the country, schools have shown progress in making middle schools warmer, friendlier places, said Douglas Mac Iver, a researcher from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and the panel’s co-chairman. But, he added, “a lot of middle schools haven’t taken the second step in becoming high-performing schools that are academically excellent.”

In the 1970s, Maryland was at the forefront of the movement to create schools that are more attuned to the developmental needs of children ages 10-14 than traditional junior high schools or K-12 schools. Middle schools responded in part by creating smaller schools-within-schools, creating advisory periods, and carving out time for students to explore careers and hobbies.

But the lackluster performance of 8th graders on international assessments in recent years has led some national experts to call the middle years “an academic wasteland” where schools try to cover too many topics in too little depth. (“Muddle in the Middle,” April 15, 1998.)

Nurturing and Standards

In Maryland, 8th graders’ scores on state assessments have even begun dropping in some subjects, state officials say. And more students there drop out in 9th grade than in any other year.

“What the message has been previously has been that high academic standards are mutually exclusive from this whole nurturing thing, and I don’t think they are mutually exclusive,” said state Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick, who appointed the task force last year. The group’s final report is expected next month.

In its preliminary report April 27, the 38-member task force recommended bolstering the curriculum for all students. “We need to make sure the curriculum is based on what we truly know they are capable of doing,” said Alice Haskins, the middle school coordinator for the Howard County, Md., schools and a panel co-chair.

But rather than retaining or promoting students who can’t keep up, the panelists said, schools should provide them with tutoring, extended-day and summer programs, or other alternatives. They called for particular attention to reading.

The most controversial recommendation, however, may be the call to require middle-level teachers to undergo more than 50 hours of training in curricular content and in the developmental needs of adolescents. Some 35 states now have specific licensing requirements for middle school teachers, but Maryland teachers can work in middle schools with either an elementary or secondary certificate.

Though he agrees with the general direction of the report, Karl Pence, the president of the 50,000-member Maryland State Teachers Association, said he was skeptical about the necessity for a separate restructuring of middle schools. “We are trying to make a commitment in Maryland to a higher level of high school graduate,” he said, “and we need to make sure that everything along the way has an academic focus that leads us to be successful there.”

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the May 12, 1999 edition of Education Week as Md. Panel Urges Tougher Middle School Academics


Jobs The EdWeek Top School Jobs Virtual Career Fair
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Mathematics Webinar
Engaging Young Students to Accelerate Math Learning
Join learning scientists and inspiring district leaders, for a timely panel discussion addressing a school district’s approach to doubling and tripling Math gains during Covid. What started as a goal to address learning gaps in
Content provided by Age of Learning & Digital Promise, Harlingen CISD
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Curriculum Webinar
How to Power Your Curriculum With Digital Books
Register for this can’t miss session looking at best practices for utilizing digital books to support their curriculum.
Content provided by OverDrive

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management Data For the First Time in the Pandemic, a Majority of 4th Graders Learn in Person Full Time
The latest monthly federal data still show big racial and socioeconomic differences in who has access to full-time in-person instruction.
3 min read
Student with backpack.
School & District Management From Our Research Center To Offer Remote Learning in the Fall or Not? Schools Are Split
An EdWeek Research Center survey shows that nearly 4 of every 10 educators say their schools will not offer any remote instruction options.
4 min read
Image of a teacher working with a student through a screen session.
School & District Management Opinion What Does It Mean to Call a Program 'Evidence-Based' Anyway?
States and school districts need to help educators weigh the research on programs. Too often it stops at a single positive study.
Fiona Hollands, Yuan Chang & Venita Holmes
5 min read
A researcher points to charts and data
School & District Management Opinion 8 Considerations for Designing High-Impact Tutoring
The most important rule is to start small and find success before expanding, writes Kevin Newman of the KIPP Foundation.
Kevin Newman
4 min read
A woman tutors a young child.
Collage by Vanessa Solis/Education Week (images: Svetlana Ievleva/iStock/Getty Images Plus; DigitalVision Vectors)