Reforming Middle School


This was an item I wrote a few years back for a class in my Education Masters program. It was a response to an article suggesting a reform in how middle school classes work, so that teacher teams would work together with the individual classes, rather than adopting a rigid schedule.

Beane’s view of curriculum has a few advantages. A focus on the schedule of projects/ activities rather than blocks for subjects can be very effective, allowing for greater flexibility with lesson length and educational strategies. Activities wouldn’t have to fit into 40 minute blocks, where much of the time is spent getting kids from one class to another.

He gives several reasons it’s going to be difficult to implement, although he may even understate the potential conflicts with parents. I’ve been convinced recently that the most controversial topic in American society is the appropriate ways to educate children, so any attempt at change is going to result in significant pushback. Parents and other voters could agree that something has to be done, but would be worried that the new developments are even worse. It seems unlikely that everything will be an improvement. Parents might like the idea in theory that we’ll have a better understanding of what works after years of practice with a new system, but they really won’t like the idea that their kids are the practice, the ones that might encounter new strategies that don’t work.

Another issue is that serious reform requires time and hard work. During the time when teachers and administrators try to figure out the ideal curriculum, someone is going to have to teach the students. The simplest thing from a lawmaker’s point of view is to insist that teachers and administrators do more work while transitioning from one system to another. That’s going to have obvious pushback in a profession that is already overworked. An alternative would be to pay teachers and administrators for their participation in the overhaul of the system of education at a pivotal period in a child’s life, which requires raising the budget. It makes sense to hire more people during a period in which there will be significantly more work, but it’s not clear what should happen to them afterwards, when less employees are needed. Teachers who specialize in one subject will presumably require more training to teach other classes. These logistics have to be figured out.

I would be interested in working in an Interdisciplinary team in the future. My only experience was a student. In Middle School, I stayed with the same group of students for three years, with a mostly Separate Subject approach, although I’m sure the teachers worked together to a degree. My High School had an interesting Humanities program that freshman could opt into. A History teacher and English teacher worked together so that as we learned about a particular historical period, we read material from that time. I think it was more effective than the normal approach. It ended up being two classes full of students, limited to 60 kids. I don’t know if it could be expanded to Math and Science, as these were two subjects that fit well together.

I could anticipate opportunities and pitfalls for teachers. In a grade of 300 students, assuming an average class size of 30 students, it might be advantageous to have ten different programs, allowing students to go with the one that works the best. That said, there might be more flexibility if students weren’t tied to one program, so that they didn’t always have the same class. Determining how students belong in a particular program can also be problematic. My Middle School had determined where I would be in eighth grade with a combination of a fifth grade test, and a handful of preferences (Do I want to learn Spanish or Italian? Do I like Art Appreciation?) That approach seemed to combine the disadvantages of Separate-Subject with the inflexibility of Integrated Curriculum.

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. You can email me at
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