Breaking Ranks in the Middle: Strategies for Leading Middle School Reform
National Association of Secondary School Principals
This large guidebook for principals-which gives sundry suggestions (structural, administrative, pedagogical) for reviving struggling middle schools-has a catch-all feel. Parts will appeal to those who decry middle school as an academic graveyard; parts will appeal to those whose focus is the emotional and social development of middle school students. Therefore, principals who use this guide must be discerning. The first of its nine Cornerstone Strategies is to establish rigorous academics, and it offers detailed suggestions for using data to enhance teaching and to assess (collaboratively, not competitively) teachers. The book is filled with checklists, self-tests, Ask the Experts interviews, and recommendations. Some are sound and based on accountability systems. Other tips are more traditional, though perhaps still useful-for example: "To creatively use existing time," principals should seek "parent volunteers, older students, and so on to produce manipulatives, copies, laminates, and other class materials," and "pay expert teachers during the summer to develop ‘curriculum tubs' that include well-developed concept-based lessons in key content areas. Place the materials in plastic tubs in a central location, so they can be checked out by any teacher." Unfortunately, some of the volume's fluff advice (teachers should be "adept at acting as coaches and facilitators to promote more active involvement of students in their own learning") is apt to cause more academic problems than it can hope to remedy. This book is vast, so it offers both good, data-driven suggestions, but also much "touchy-feely" advice. Overall, though, the document manages to stress content, assessment, and data-a welcome sign in middle school literature. You can order a copy here.
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