Skepticism on Middle School Solutions

mallard

This was something I wrote for a class in my education masters program.

One of the most surprising things I read for any of the classes this year was the notion that Middle School is often less cognitively demanding then elementary school. (Kennedy-Lewis, 101) That seems like something that has to change, and would be a top priority of mine as a middle grades teacher. I’ve made the observation a few times that there are some policy problems that individual teachers are unable to change, but this seems to be one where one teacher can make a significant impact, even if working in the framework of strict curricula. It’s something new to keep in mind when making lesson plans in the future: Is the material sufficiently cognitively demanding? The article was written in 2013, and that section references material in 2012, so it should still be relevant. It’s an indication that there should be a healthy skepticism for business as usual in any school where I’d be lucky enough to be employed, if this remains a national problem.

I’m a big proponent of evidence based methods in teaching and elsewhere. The numbers for Positive Behavior Interventions and Support (Cramer and Bennet, 19) although in my attempt to summarize what exactly it means if 95% of students are helped in the first two tiers, I realized that there are additional questions. Students in the first tier are probably less likely to act out in class, so an understanding that 80% of students will respond to Tier One intervention might mislead a teacher who believes that this means 80% of situations will be resolved by Tier One intervention. In addition, distribution in schools is likely to be unequal. When reading about Special Education programs, I was reminded about statistics I had seen in another class about the low graduation numbers for African-American Special- Ed students in New York City, and arguments that it was a system with perverse incentives for administrators.

The article mentioned a problem with “one size fits all” solutions although there is an advantage (23) in perceived fairness when everyone is treated the same (IE- the same offense gets the same punishment.) There might be a perception of favoritism if students with disruptive home lives are less likely to be suspended. I could probably argue for hours about the implications of the articles with friends and family (it may very well end up happening anyway) although I still have more questions than answers. I don’t know if it’s realistic to get biased teachers to admit their own bigotry, (19) given how socially unacceptable blatant racism is. The backfire effect (the way people often double down on an issue when they learn they’re wrong about the facts) is also going to be a factor. I’m also curious about whether there’s an observer bias in interviews with persistently disciplined students.

The articles provided some food for thought in terms of what middle grades teacher I’d want to be. I certainly don’t want to be the type of teacher who says “Go and leave the classroom. I don’t care.” (Kennedy-Lewis, 104) While reading the papers, I made a note that “Man, advisory would have helped out here” as students dealt with their struggles adjusting from one kind of school to another. I remember having these kinds of problems as a student, and once crying in a school office because I didn’t know where to go for my next class, the first time I had lost my program card. I’ve probably complained about the administrators in my Intermediate School (officially not a Middle School or Junior High School) but they were relatively nice about that. It’s hard to imagine them responding otherwise, but I suppose that happens, and that has to be heartbreaking for a struggling student.

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About Thomas Mets

I’m a comic book fan, wannabe writer, politics buff and New Yorker. I don’t actually follow baseball. In the Estonian language, “Mets” simply means forest, or lousy sports team. Currently, I’m writing a few comic books about my grandparents’ experiences in Soviet Estonia for Grayhaven comics. You can email me at mistermets@gmail.com
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