Thursday, March 10, 2011

Do K-8 pathways create quality middle schools?

A very interesting letter was posted early this morning on another thread. I don't want this letter to be missed, so I am reprinting it here. The letter discusses the data from EdSource, an independent, nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization whose mission is to clarify complex education issues and to promote thoughtful policy decisions about public school improvement in California. Unlike SFUSD, EdSource does not have a personal stake in the proposed K-8 feeder patterns in San Francisco, which makes the results of their research just that much more compelling.

Click here for a free pdf of the EdSource presentation “Gaining Ground in the Middle Grades: Why Some Schools Do Better (A Large-Scale Study of Middle Grades Practices and Student Outcomes). The highlights of the study’s findings can be found on slide 8. Of the 10 domains that they studied, one dominated in importance (ie, focus on outcomes); another six had strong impact (in order of decreasing importance: coherent instruction, superintendent leadership, teacher competence, principal leadership, extensive use of data, and academic interventions); and the final three were always at the bottom in terms of impact (ie, time and instruction, school environment, and the very, very LAST was student transitions).

SFUSD should address the EdSource findings in the upcoming MS community forums, because if SFUSD wants quality middle schools, then they should be spending time and money on items with the biggest impact: focus on outcomes, coherent instruction, superintendent leadership, teacher competence, principal leadership, extensive use of data, and academic interventions. SFUSD should justify why they are wasting time and money (and upsetting many parents to boot) at the bottom of the list, where independent research has proven there will be marginal gains.

WoodruffLong rightly concludes, “Why aren't we using this study as the guide for exploration?

Here is the letter:

WoodruffLong said...

I'm frustrated why it's a "done deal" when they are only getting out to the middle schools to gain feedback now?



There is a lot of discussion from SFUSD admin about all the "research" that shows how pathways really make a difference in middle school. I wish they'd show it - I'm not finding it. 



After Denman's session, I spent several hours trying to find studies that show what SFUSD keeps saying is out there. All I could find is one Rand study from 2005 that touts K-8 programs - but that was along with about 9 other things that affected middle school quality.



Most recently, the EdSource report in Feb 2010: "Gaining Ground in the Middle Grades: Why Some Schools Do Better" looked specifically at California middle schools. I took a vacation day and brought my middle school Assist. Principal with me to their presentation. 



They explored 10 elements, 7 of which they see as the most impactful in attaining the best academic outcomes.



At the bottom of the list that they said had no impact? Regarding K-8, 6-8, or 7-8 structures, they said: "There might be other reasons to do these, but in gaining better academic outcomes, there was no effect."



So it's the bottom of the list, not the top 7, that is what SFUSD is starting with to explore middle school quality. 



Why aren't we using this study as the guide for exploration? As a middle school parent of two, it certainly makes sense to me. Check it out. Click here.

6 comments:

  1. The study only concluded that there is no consistent or strong association between a school's GRADE CONFIGURATION on student performance in middle school, meaning a child who attends a K-8 school is no more likely to succeed academically in middle school than one who attends an elementary school (K-5) followed by a middle school (6-8). The proposed move to feeder schools does not change the SFUSD grade configurations [predominately K-5/6-8] in any way. Bringing up this particular study finding as an argument against the SFUSD feeder school plan is a bit of a red herring.

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  2. I attended two community forums. At both forums, when a parent asked "Why do we need K-8 feeder patterns?" a SFUSD representatives stated that the rationale for K-8 pathways was to address the dips in academic performance that occurred when students transitioned from K-5 elementary schools to 6-8 middle schools. They explained that the feeder proposal will minimize the impact of student transitions and will improve academic performance (virtual K-8). The study is important because, as you rightly stated, "...a child who attends a K-8 school is no more likely to succeed academically in middle school than one who attends an elementary school (K-5) followed by a middle school (6-8)."

    One can understand why we need K-8 pathways for language programs. If we eliminate the District's transition "theory,", it becomes harder to rationalize why we need K-8 feeder pathways for general Ed students.

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  3. Hi Parent X,

    If you take a closer look at the study you will see that there are quite a number of conclusions. The one you mentioned is notable for not having a strong association with achievement where as the other factors do. I recently made a similar mistake in over-oversimplifying a conclusion to another study. Please take another look.

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  4. Donna, the reasons for feeders for GE, if you do not agree with the District's transition theory, are money and safety.

    SFUSD would save money on transportation services if everyone would just go to school near their home or at least in your half of the city. Long MUNI rides are burdensome and potentially unsafe.

    Some schools in the southeast are not popular, even with residents of the southeast. The school district is taking a shot in the dark that the situation might change in those struggling MS's if GE students and parents who were such an instumental part of improving stuggling ES's in the southeast were drafted for another tour of duty in MS, to put it in military terms.

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  5. Does this feeder plan achieve academic diversity (the substitute for ethnic diversity)?

    At the same time, are unreasonable transportation issues avoided?

    It is a difficult balancing act. The least we can do is to be clear on the purposes for our actions. And if we are not sure if it will improve things, if it is really just trial and error, let's say that the feeder plan is just an experiment into the unknown.

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  6. Don't be so sure EdSource is neutral, they pretend to be but then use dishonest means to prevent people who disagree with some of their points from attending events, create arcane rules, lie, etc. They may have an agenda. They are certainly censors and tell pepole there is this way to go, but then when you do turn around and lie and act like they never said it. Do not believe EdSource is neutral. They could more accurately be referred to as EdCensor. They even censor their own web site and twitter feed if anyone doesn't drink their Kool Aid.

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