Reinforcing `saggy middle'

Middle schools: School systems are right to examine and reshape curricula.

September 29, 2001

LONG THE SUBJECT of inexcusable neglect, middle schools are finally getting proper attention from area school systems.

Baltimore's schools chief Carmen Russo, delighted that the system's elementary students are making gains, will place added focus on disappointing middle school programs.

Baltimore County school officials have added resource teachers and replaced the principal and some staffers at Woodlawn Middle School. That school's students have performed so abysmally that the state is threatening a takeover.

Anne Arundel Public Schools' decision to double reading time in middle schools was a strong move toward important reform - although the state school board has ruled that the system must carve out more time for electives and physical education by January.

The school system has to comply, but that shouldn't come at the expense of additional reading time.

The regional activity on middle school reform is important, and comes at an important time. For years, state officials have been lamenting the "saggy middle," a precipitous drop in test scores once children hit the pivotal middle-school years. The problem is reflected nationwide, too.

It's significant that local jurisdictions are not only recognizing the problem, but also beginning to counteract the trend.

Some people believe that as elementary schools improve and their students move on to higher grades, middle school performance will come along. But that's a dangerous oversight.

Middle school curricula need examining and reshaping.

Reading - which isn't taught in many middle schools - needs to be part of regular instruction for children who didn't get the basics early on.

Local school districts are taking the first steps on this frontier. Their efforts will be worth it. The move to improve middle-school performance throughout the region is gaining momentum that's been needed for a long time.

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