Success in the Middle Act – What Parents of School-Aged Children Should Know

The news on the education front is rather bleak when it comes to the plight of our struggling students and the odds against their graduating high school in four years–or at all. And the pivotal, success-determining years are those spent in middle school.

That’s why in June, Congressman Raul M. Grijalva and Senator Jack Reed reintroduced the Success in the Middle Act, the first of its kind. Said Grijalva, “Middle schools are a forgotten area. We need to invest in the most crucial years of the education pipeline to ensure our students succeed. Middle school students are faced with many changes in their personal life and the pressures of adjusting into teenagers. Our schools need to invest in this transitional period to create the support mechanism these students will need to continue through high school and on to other higher education opportunities.”

As the act documents, the need is great. America’s graduation rate hovers around only 70%–72% for girls and 65% for boys-and the Education Research Center says graduation rates in our biggest cities is only at about 52%. In fact, reports indicate that 10% of our high schools produce 50% of all high school dropouts, hence the nickname “dropout factories.”

And most of our dropouts quit school in 9th grade. One major reason: inadequate middle school preparation and support. States Success in the Middle, “According to ACT, the level of academic achievement that students attain by 8th grade has a larger impact on the students’ college and career readiness than anything that happens academically in high school.”

The stated problem: Many middle grades (5-8) students do not receive the appropriate instruction and other supports to be successful in the rigorous high school coursework that will prepare them for college and the workforce.” An overview of the act set forth these facts:

1. Results on the 2007 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) suggest that only 33% of our 8th graders read and write with proficiency, and, in math, that figure is less than one-third.

2. 6th graders who are frequently absent, pose ongoing discipline problems, and/or fail math or English have only about a 10% chance of graduating from high school in four years-and with only a 20% chance of doing so in five years.

3. 22% of our middle schools have been identified as needing improvement versus only 13% of our elementary schools.

Meanwhile, these solutions are presented:

1. $1 billion for grants to low-performing middle schools, with 1% set aside to determine grant effectiveness.

2. A student achievement plan stating what students need to succeed, plus early identification and intervention programs.

3. Professional development programs reflecting student needs, plus research-based teaching practices and curriculum.

4. Comprehensive improvement plans for middle schools where a majority of students are not proficient on state-mandated reading and math tests; or where more than 25% demonstrate such at-risk behaviors as discipline problems and failing grades; or whose high schools graduate less than 60% of their students.

5. Extended learning time and personal academic plans.

6. An additional $100 million for the reviewing, sharing, and applying research-based best practices.