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NMSA's Vision of Middle School Excellence


Near the end of 2003, the National Middle School Association released 14 recommendations for dramatically improving middle schools. NMSA president Linda Robinson worked hard spreading the word and her passion for the suggestions. Included: Information about the 14 recommendations for improving middle schools.

In 2003, the National Middle School Association (NMSA) released This We Believe: Successful Schools for Young Adolescents, which included 14 recommendations its members thought were important for successful middle schools. NMSA president Linda Robinson, principal of Alvin Junior High School in Alvin, Texas, said she would like to see all the recommendations implemented to create a more enriching middle school experience for all students.

Linda Robinson
According to the recommendations, the NMSA believes successful schools for young adolescents have a culture that includes
  • educators who value working with this age group and are prepared to do so.
  • courageous, collaborative leadership.
  • a shared vision that guides decisions.
  • an inviting, supportive, and safe environment.
  • high expectations for every member of the learning community.
  • students and teachers engaged in active learning.
  • an adult advocate for every student.
  • school-initiated family and community partnerships.

Successful schools for young adolescents provide

  • curriculum that is relevant, challenging, integrative, and exploratory.
  • multiple learning and teaching approaches that respond to their diversity.
  • assessment and evaluation programs that promote quality learning.
  • organizational structures that support meaningful relationships and learning.
  • school-wide efforts and policies that foster health, wellness, and safety.
  • multifaceted guidance and support services.
Robinson recently chatted with Education World about the development of those recommendations, and why she thinks they are critical to middle-level education.

Education World: How were the 14 recommendations developed?

Linda Robinson: The third edition of This We Believe: Successful Schools for Young Adolescents reflects a commitment by the National Middle School Association to keep its position papers current and reflective of the latest research and successful practices. A blue ribbon panel of middle-school experts, both researchers and practitioners, came together to begin the process of reviewing the [last edition of the] position paper and identifying areas that needed revision or new material that needed to be included. More than 250 practitioners and researchers were asked for input and the NMSA Web site also solicited input. The panel of experts took the excellent input from these sources and did the revision.

This We Believe: Successful Schools for Young Adolescents was released along with a companion document, Research and Resources in Support of This We Believe.

EW: How are the recommendations being communicated to members?

Robinson: This We Believe: Successful Schools for Young Adolescents was introduced at the National Press Club in November 2003, on the day prior to the NMSA's 30th annual conference. During the conference, the blue ribbon panel gave a presentation on the two new documents. An executive summary is on the NMSA Web site, and both documents have been mailed to every governor, every commissioner of education, and to many policy makers in the United States. Currently, This We Believe: Successful Schools for Young Adolescents is the best selling document of all NMSA publications. The NMSA has received very positive feedback from a variety of constituents. Interest in successful middle-level schools has intensified with the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act.

EW: What kind of support does NMSA provide to schools trying to implement the recommendations?

Robinson: The NMSA is committed to supporting teachers, leaders, and entire schools as they work toward implementing those 14 recommendations. NMSA Publications offers not only books that give more in depth knowledge about particular recommendations, but also staff development kits that can be used as a school moves forward in implementing the middle school concept.

In addition, Webcasts that can be viewed by an entire school, team, or leadership cadre are offered throughout the year. The Webcast also can be purchased on CD for use for professional development at any time. Workshops such as the Middle Level Essentials Conference recently held in Chicago, and Using Student Work to Direct Instruction, which was held in Kentucky, are two examples of workshops designed to move implementation of the recommendations to an even higher level. Finally, NMSA offers to schools and to districts on-site professional development designed for the needs of that school or district.

"Now, more than ever before, the body of research and practice reflects that when the middle level concept is implemented over time, all students succeed," says Linda Robinson, president of the National Middle School Association.
EW: How would you assess the current sate of middle-school education? What are the pluses and minuses?

Robinson: The current state of middle-school education is exciting and challenging. Now, more than ever before, the body of research and practice reflects that when the middle-level concept is implemented over time, all students succeed. Too many schools are middle schools in name only, and if we hope to reach the challenge of NCLB, it is imperative that we all recommit to fully implementing the 14 recommendations.

The pluses in middle level education include that research and practice prove that with implementation [of the middle-school concept] over time, student achievement increases. Those of us in the field know that we are so lucky to work with young adolescent during the time when such rapid growth is taking place and when they are in transition from childhood to young adulthood. And we are proud that there is an increasing number of schools where middle-level students are academically challenged in a developmentally appropriate environment.

Among the minuses is that it is not the norm for all 14 recommendations to be fully implemented; many schools only have partial implementation. Many schools begin the implementation and before the pieces are in place, give up and go back to "what they've always done." Those of us committed to middle level students will not rest until all students are being served by schools committed to the success of every child.

EW: What do you think of the trend in some districts to return the K-8 school model?

Robinson: Most discussion of a move to a K-8 structure is in larger urban districts. Often the motivation for the move is building utilization or a desire for smaller schools. There is no research that tells us that K-8 is a better configuration. A study done by Ken McEwin, a professor of middle level education at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, indicated that 86 percent of K-8 principals believe the middle grades should be housed in a middle school instead of a K-8 school and 58 percent of the respondents said they would change the grade organization of their K-8 schools if they could. The most frequently recommended grade organization was 6-8 [in one school] (59 percent). The National Middle Association believes that it is imperative that the 14 recommendations be implemented for young adolescents regardless of the grade configuration of the school.

This e-interview with Linda Robinson is part of the Education World Wire Side Chat series. Click here to see other articles in the series.


Article by Ellen R. Delisio
Education World®
Copyright © 2006 Education World

Originally published 03/11/2004; updated 02/02/2006