Proposal To the Massachusetts State Legislature for the Formation of a Massachusetts Commission on Middle Level Education - May 6, 2003
June 17, 2003 - Formally adopted by unanimous vote of the MSSAA Board of Directors, and will form the substance of a Bill to be considered by the Legislature.
View as a PDF file
During the past twenty years there has been a dramatic shift from the traditional junior high school concept to the middle school concept in the Commonwealth. Today nearly one-third of our students in grades K-12 are ten to fourteen year old young adolescents in grades five through eight housed in a variety of grade configurations.
In March 1993 the State Department of Education published “Magic in the Middle: A Focus on Massachusetts Middle Grade Schools”. The purpose of this report, which was a part of the Massachusetts Turning Points Project, was “…to promote the importance of middle grade reform.” Its two major goals were to restructure middle grade schools to promote success for all students and to reform middle grade teacher preparation programs to better prepare middle level teachers.
While there have been many positive changes made in middle level education in the past ten years, too many middle level schools have been unable to make the significant changes needed in curriculum, instruction and assessment practices recommended by “Magic in the Middle” for a variety of reasons. As Massachusetts continues to implement education reform within the context of federal “No Child Left Behind” mandates and national standards and state curriculum frameworks, the time has come to re-examine middle level education in the Commonwealth to ensure that there truly is “Magic in the Middle” and to determine to barriers and supports most needed for middle level education to be highly effective for every young adolescent in the Commonwealth.
Since the release of “Magic in the Middle” in 1993 several national studies have been published that describe the essential characteristics of middle level education and emphasize how critical the middle school years are to the intellectual, physical and emotional development of our youth. Two of the most important were the Kellogg Foundation’s “Middle Start Initiative” (1997) and the Carnegie Corporation’s “Turning Points 2000 Educating Adolescents in the 21st Century” (2000). One of the key findings of the Kellogg Foundation’s research was that the implementation of the middle school concept enabled students to “…perform better on standardized achievement tests and exhibit healthier attitudes and behaviors.” The seven “Turning Points 2000” recommendations reflect what has been learned in the past decade and provide a blueprint for what should be implemented in our middle schools.
It is critical at this time to establish a Massachusetts Commission on Middle Level Education (MCMLE) to explore and investigate middle level education in the Commonwealth in light of these studies and scores of others that describe research and best practice for middle level schools. The thousands of young adolescents in the Commonwealth deserve an effective, quality middle grades experience, one that increases learning and best meets the needs of this unique population. While education reform has had a major impact on teaching and learning in the Commonwealth, many feel that the middle level has been neglected. For example, while there are scores of references to the elementary and secondary level within education reform, little mention or emphasis is given to the middle level.
This is especially problematic in the area of teacher licensure where little distinction is made between preparation to teach high school and to teach middle school. As “Turning Points 2000” and other studies recommend, we must “staff middle grades schools with teachers who are experts at teaching young adolescents.”
Twelve years after the publication of the original “Turning Points” publication and ten years since the publication of “Magic in the Middle”, it is time to evaluate middle level education in Massachusetts. Our neighbors have already begun this process. In December, 2000 New York State released their “Research Study of the Essential Elements of Middle-Level Education” as well as “Ten Years Later: The State of Middle-Level Education in New York State in a Standards-Based Environment”. Vermont published “The Middle Still Matters, a Vision of Education for Vermont’s Young Adolescents” in January 2001. In September, 2001 Maine formed the “Maine Commission on Middle Level Education” to assist schools “…in identifying, initiating, assessing and revamping exemplary practices and programs that are academically rigorous, developmentally responsive, and available to all, not some of our students.” The report of this Commission will soon be published. While there is much to be learned from these publications, a Commission needs to be established as soon as possible to review middle level education in Massachusetts if we are to continue to be recognized as national leaders in education reform.
Charge to the Massachusetts Commission on Middle Level Education (MCMLE):
The MCMLE will focus on the following:
1. Report progress on the recommendations of “Magic in the Middle”.
2. Review pertinent research and effective best practice.
3. Make recommendations to the State Legislature to improve standards based middle level teaching and learning to include a review, analysis, and recommendations for middle level education as related to the following areas:
• The State Curriculum Frameworks;
• Teacher licensure;
• High standards and achievement;
• Articulation between the elementary and high school levels;
• Department of Education middle level support services; and,
• Other related pertinent issues.
• Membership – The legislature will appoint a majority of the representatives who are “highly knowledgeable” in the field of middle level education from the following: teachers, education specialists, principals and assistant principals, superintendents, the State Department of Education, school boards, and parents. Invitations for membership should be extended to appropriate professional organizations to include, but not be limited to, the following: Massachusetts Secondary Schools Administrators Association (MSSAA), Commonwealth Of Massachusetts Middle Level Educators (COMMLE), New England League of Middle Schools (NELMS), Massachusetts Elementary School Principals Association (MESPA), Massachusetts Association of Supervisors and Curriculum Developers (MASCD), and the Massachusetts Business Alliance. Co-chairs will be appointed by the Legislature.
• Parameters – The work of the Commission will focus on policy level recommendations to the State Legislature related to any aspect of middle level education. Recommendations may include policies for local, regional and state levels of organization.
• Meetings – Meetings of the MCMLE will be held monthly. Work assignments and communications via email, conference calls and sub-committees will be used as necessary. Agendas will be sent in advance of each meeting by the co-chairs.
• Public Hearings – Four preliminary public hearings in different parts of the state will be held to gather recommendations. Four public hearings on the draft recommendations will also be held throughout the state.
• Decision-Making - Decisions will be made by consensus of those members present. Voting will be used at the discretion of the co-chairs if consensus cannot be reached.
• Communication - All communications with the media will be the responsibility of the co-chairs in consultation with the Legislature’s Office of Public Affairs. An up-todate membership list with addresses, phone, fax and email addresses will be maintained for all members.
• Life of the Commission - The MCMLE will stand for twelve months unless otherwise determined by the Legislature. A report of the recommendations of the MCMLE is to be submitted to the Legislature at the end of this time.
There are three major budget areas as follows:
• $9,000 to conduct a survey and analysis of state middle level schools regarding implementation of the recommendations of “Magic in the Middle”;
• $8,000 for clerical support, travel, mailings, photocopying and meeting arrangements to include hospitality; and,
• $8,000 for the publication of the recommendations of the Commission to each middle level school in the commonwealth. (Note - The costs for the Report of the MCMLE can be off-set by charging a fee. New York, for example, charges $6.00 for their report.)
Total Budget = $25,000.