New Middle Schools for New Futures

Article excerpt

In 2000, Gayle Andrews and I published Turning Points 2000: Educating Adolescents in the 21" Century (Jackson & Davis, 2000), in which we summarized our analysis of the conditions of middle grades education at the turn of the century.

Significant progress has been made in the journey to provide young adolescents with a developmentally responsive education. . . . Structural changes in middle grades education - how students and teachers are organized for learning - have been fairly widespread and have produced good results. . . . However, our observations suggest that relatively little has changed at the core of most students' school experience: curriculum, assessment, and instruction, (p. 5)

Now, nearly a decade later, what is the state of middle grades education? On the one hand, federal mandates under No Child Left Behind, flawed as the legislation may be, have stimulated a significant and needed emphasis on improving instruction and outcomes for students who historically had, indeed, been left behind: poor students, students of color, and students with handicapping conditions.

On balance, though, no sea change in the status of middle grades education has occurred. Data from the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) show improvement in eighth grade scores in recent years for virtually all groups, but significant problems remain. In mathematics, for example, 30% of our nation's eighth graders are categorized as below basic in their achievement levels, and 27% are below basic in reading (National Center for Education Statistics, 2007a, 2007b). The data also show continuing gaps in achievement between racial and ethnic groups in reading and math. These data suggest that the core of what students do every day in school - what they learn, how they learn, and how they demonstrate what they have learned - remains much the same as it was a decade ago and decades before that.

Enter the global era

While the heart of middle grades education may not have drastically changed in the past decades, the world has. The forces of globalization have and will continue to create a vastly different set of challenges and oppoptunities for today's middle grades students compared Jo previous generations.

We now live in a truly global economy, where goods and services move seamlessly back and forth across national borders. The wiring of the world has made it possible for people to do increasing amounts of work anywhere, anytime (Friedman, 2005).

So, too, do we live in a multicultural society. New immigrants from regions in Asia, Central and South America, and Africa are transforming the cultures of local communities and workplaces, American life increasingly involves interaction and working with individuals from vastly different backgrounds and cultures, requiring new sensitivities, perspectives, and communication skills (Asia Society, 2008).

New middle schools for new futures

How should middle schools address the "old" problem of poor academic achievement and the new demands of globalization? What students need is a new skill set that includes but goes beyond reading, math, and science to include international knowledge and skills. Deep knowledge about other cultures, sophisticated communication skills including the ability to speak at least one language in addition to English, expert thinking skills required in a knowledgedriven global economy, and the disposition to positively interact with individuals from varied backgrounds-these are the foundations of work and citizenship in the 21st century (Jackson, 2008).

In 2008, Asia Society, a non-partisan, non-profit education organization, published a report entitled Going Global: Preparing Our Students for An Interconnected World (Asia Society, 2008). I co-authored the report, with my colleagues Shari Albright, Vivien Stewart, and Heather Singmaster. Like Turning Points 2000 nearly a decade ago, Going Global provides a guide for the education of adolescents that draws on research and best practices from exemplary schools. …