A middle grade fix to go with the high school plan

10:49 am

With the coming of the newly designed high schools it is even more imperative PPS fixes its middle grade education. Here is my proposal:

Put four 7th and 8th grade junior high schools, one each, into the Roosevelt, Madison, Jefferson, and Marshall attendance areas. If there are about 1400 students per high school in each attendance area that would be close to 700 students in each school. We leave the 6th graders in K-6s. Middle school for them is not much different than grade school anyway and society already pushes kids ahead too fast. Then let’s focus on making these schools attract and engage kids that age and use what we know about child development. I mean let’s really focus on it.

Art, band, electives (including hands-on shop and computer engineering, dance, and drama), PE every day, huge numbers of computers that are accessible, a comprehensive education in the social sciences, science, and health. A truly outstanding library. Advanced classes as well as a strong support system for struggling students. A no sugar, no junk food lunch program. Appropriate and extensive counseling. A yearbook. A school newspaper. Close ties to state, county, and city programs designed to help low-income families. Athletic and other programs such as debate and academic teams which compete against the other three schools with paid teacher coaches. A full intramural program at noon. Speakers, field trips, special programs with outside artists etc.

Then let’s couple a no nonsense discipline policy with an embracing of teen culture. Hats? Fine. Ipods? Fine. Cell phones? OK out of class. Xbox tournaments. A liberal dress code. But a take no prisoners class or program disruption discipline policy using a system which doesn’t eliminate the kid from school but holds them responsible for their actions.

Let’s free up teachers to be creative and add interest to their classes. Encourage and celebrate teaching that is dynamic and engages students, while understanding what we are trying to do is broaden the background of each child.

Expensive? Somewhat, but not as much as you might think. And with only four schools to focus on, PPS could really draw on community partners and grants for support.

It is time we stopped short-changing our most vulnerable students and perpetuating an economic and educational underclass n Portland. It is these kids’ turn.

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Steve Buel has taught in public schools for 41 years. He served on the PPS school board (1979-1983) and co-authored the 1980 School Desegregation Plan. He has followed PPS politics since 1975.

filed under: Discipline, K-8 Transistion, Middle Schools

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5 Responses

  1. Comment from S. Wilcox:

    Yes, Steve, this would be extremely expensive, but what is that saying? “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” Fixing K-8s will take a complete overhaul of the system. It is obvious that when the model was implemented, no amount of long-term planning went into it. I am waiting for the “higher ups” to weigh in on this argument. What are we going to do?

  2. Comment from marcia:

    HEY! It sounds just the the junior high school I attended way back in the early 1960’s. Seemed to work just fine way back when. Maybe that’s way back when they used to fund education at a more adequate level?

  3. Comment from S. Wilcox:

    I just read the article in the Tribune that came out yesterday. It was talking about the high school redesign, saying that board members wanted to vote it through by October! There were numerous references to the K-8 fiasco, problem, mess (call it what you want), and how they did not want this high school thing to go the same way. NO mention of what they were going to do about the mess, which is the most frustrating thing about it. It really feels as if we have been written off.

  4. Comment from Steve Buel:

    The middle grades get the short end of the stick. I think it is because parent support and interest is weakest in these grades. Parents are really into the primary grades then their interest drops off in the middle grades and returns with all the sports and activities in high school.

    Since there is little pressure to make the middle grade education better and not much monitoring (comparatively)the middle grades become a political low priority. And in the low income neighborhoods, where there is a lack of parent involvement anyway, middle grade education is atrocious yet doesn’t get addressed.

    I mean isn’t this HIGH SCHOOL redesign sexy?

  5. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Marcia, when did we lose the concept of exploration for the middle grades? And when did we lose the idea of broadening their education and exposing kids that age to a plethora of ideas and experiences? And what about the need for the arts, and physical activity, and educational activities that stretch their horizons? We could still do this if we had the will.