Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

The Crabapple Experience - Insights from Program Evaluations

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

The Crabapple Experience - Insights from Program Evaluations

Article excerpt

Mr. Elmore and Mr. Wisenbaker concur that we should resist pressures to retreat to teacher-centered approaches that focus narrowly on the four basic subjects, that ignore social and personal development, and that make creative learning experiences available mainly to those in classes for the gifted.

WHEN Crabapple Middle School was awarded a grant from Fulton County to implement a multi-age team (MAT) project, principal Linda Hopping asked us to conduct a three-year evaluation of the effort. We quickly realized that, if the goals of the grant were achieved, the experiment would move Crabapple to the cutting edge of middle-level education. While community building was the overarching goal of the Crabapple project, Linda and her teachers came up with an ambitious list of additional goals, based on recommendations from Turning Points, that they wished to accomplish. Our evaluations, which used both quantitative and qualitative procedures, sought to determine how well these objectives were being met. In this article, we share the lessons we learned about what makes an effective middle school. We discuss leadership, MAT goals and practices, and the results of our evaluation.

Effective Middle Schools

Have Strong Leadership

Successful reform requires strong leadership. During the Crabapple experiments, visionary leadership existed at every level. Other articles in this section have described the strong leadership at Crabapple and in the Fulton County School District.

Camille McElroy, the assistant principal who was responsible for overseeing the MAT groups, was essential to the evaluation effort. Throughout the project evaluation, she worked tirelessly to coordinate the collection of data and to assist us at every turn. Camille frequently gave MAT evaluation progress reports at education conferences.

If dynamic change is to occur in middle schools, it is essential that we nurture teachers who are leaders of and inquirers into effective practice. Teachers in the MAT program continuously engaged in staff development and regularly conducted inservice training themselves. They gave presentations at the annual meetings of the Georgia Middle School Association and the National Middle School Association.

MAT Organization and Goals

Linda, the teachers, the parents, and the students believed that the multi-age team design would create a sense of community and provide a democratic climate in which the students' social, emotional, physical, and intellectual needs could be successfully addressed. To put these ideas into practice, two multi-age teams were formed, each with a total of 110 sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-grade students and four teachers - representing math, science, social studies, and reading/language arts.

With many students from middle- and higher-income families, average achievement at Crabapple was high. Average scores on the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills, across subjects, ranged from the 65th to the 75th percentiles. Academic improvement was a school goal, but social, emotional, and physical outcomes were also considered important. The goals of the MAT project included enhancing self-esteem; implementing Project Adventure; enhancing critical and creative thinking; teaching gifted and learning-disabled students in the mainstream; creating flexible block schedules; using thematic, interdisciplinary units; and increasing hands-on learning.

In an early visit, Randy asked Linda and the MAT teachers if they really wanted to attempt so many goals. They answered with firm resolve: "We want to do all these things. We want to have the best middle school program possible!" Randy told them about an old adage, "If you rock the boat a lot, you make big waves. If you rock it a little, the waves are smaller (meaning, perhaps, the chances of success are greater)." The Crabapple teachers wanted to rock the boat a lot.

Major Changes with MAT

The beginning of a school year is always a time of anxiety and excitement. …

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