Breaking Ranks in the Middle: Strategies for Leading Middle School Reform
April 05, 2006
National Association of Secondary School Principals
This large guidebook for principals-which gives sundry suggestions
(structural, administrative, pedagogical) for reviving struggling middle
schools-has a catch-all feel. Parts will appeal to those who decry middle school as an academic graveyard;
parts will appeal to those whose focus is the emotional and social
development of middle school students. Therefore, principals who use
this guide must be discerning. The first of its nine Cornerstone
Strategies is to establish rigorous academics, and it offers detailed
suggestions for using data to enhance teaching and to assess
(collaboratively, not competitively) teachers. The book is filled with
checklists, self-tests, Ask the Experts interviews, and recommendations.
Some are sound and based on accountability systems. Other tips are more
traditional, though perhaps still useful-for example: "To creatively
use existing time," principals should seek "parent volunteers, older
students, and so on to produce manipulatives, copies, laminates, and
other class materials," and "pay expert teachers during the summer to
develop ‘curriculum tubs' that include well-developed concept-based
lessons in key content areas. Place the materials in plastic tubs in a
central location, so they can be checked out by any teacher."
Unfortunately, some of the volume's fluff advice (teachers should be
"adept at acting as coaches and facilitators to promote more active
involvement of students in their own learning") is apt to cause more
academic problems than it can hope to remedy. This book is vast, so it
offers both good, data-driven suggestions, but also much "touchy-feely"
advice. Overall, though, the document manages to stress content,
assessment, and data-a welcome sign in middle school literature. You can
order a copy here.