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Walcott Takes on Middle Schools
September 20th, 2011

It’s no secret to anyone who has spent time in city schools, had an adolescent or been one that middle school is where things begin to go awry for many students. Test scores fall, behavior problems develop and many students begin to fall so far behind that they never catch up and simply leave schools a few years later.

The city has mounted various, often half-hearted efforts to combat this and none have accomplished much.

In his first major policy speech as chancellor, given this morning at NYU, Dennis Walcott focused on the issues of middle schools, ticking off a panoply of problems in grade six through eight and acknowledging his department must do more to address them. (This post is based on the prepared text of Walcott’s speech, available here.) To do that, Walcott plans borrow a page from the Bloomberg administration approach to high schools by closing failing schools and opening new ones. The administration claims success with this, but the policy has been controversial and has many critics.

In his speech, Walcott vowed to open at least 50 new middle schools in the next two years. Some will be charter schools, Walcott said.

On the flip side closing schools Walcott said, “We will hold our middle schools to the same tough standards we hold our high schools. If a school is failing, we will phase it out.”

More on the plan after the jump.

In other struggling schools the city will implement the federal Turnaround model, which keeps a school open but changes much of the staff. The chancellor said he would apply for up to $30 million in federal money to put Turnaround in place at 10 schools starting next fall.

Acknowledging that few principals and teachers aspire to work in middle schools, Walcott said the city would create a “new class of Teaching Fellows to work in shortage areas in middle schools and create additional pathways to encourage teachers to work in middle schools.” And he wants the Leadership Academy and other places that develop principals to look for and develop administrators to work in middle schools as well.

In addition, Walcott said more middle schools would participate in the iZone, the city’s highly touted but basically unproven method to make more use of technology in classrooms. And he said, to help middle school students meet the new Common Core standards being put in place across the country, the city will spend $15 million on nonfiction books for these schools.

Interestingly Walcott did not discuss reconfiguring middle schools a change that has attracted a bit of popularity around the country. The city does have some schools that go from kindergarten through grade eight and others that start at grade six and run through the senior year of high school. But for now, at least, it appears that most city adolescents will attend a three-year middle school, for better or for worse.

By on September 20, 2011, 12:15 pm
In category: Education,Gotham City | 1 Comment »

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