National Middle-Grades Forum Calls for Creation
of Small Learning Communities
Federal, state, and local
policymakers need to provide resources and support to create small schools
at the middle-grades level, according to a policy statement issued by the
National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades
Reform, an alliance of educators,
researchers, national associations, and officers of professional organizations
and foundations are dedicated to improving education in the middle grades.
statement says that in those cases where small schools are not feasible,
district and school leaders should break down large middle-grades schools
into smaller schools or small learning communities where teams of teachers
share small groups of students (sometimes called “clusters” or “houses”).
Though not sufficient in itself, “smallness” creates a personalized
learning environment that enhances teaching and learning at the middle level.
“Too many young adolescents
attend large, impersonal schools where a substantial number of students are
not engaged in learning, lack meaningful relationships with adults, and are
increasingly alienated from school,” said Deborah Kasak, National Forum
executive director. “We know that smaller learning communities have
higher student achievement and lower dropout rates. As more and more school
leaders are faced with declining revenues and tough choices, we are asking
for more, not less, support and resources to establish and implement small
learning communities at the middle level,” Kasak said.
“As students move through
the middle grades, they do better in a more personalized learning environment
where their teachers know them well,” said Nancy Ames, vice president
of Education Development Center, and a member of the National Forum’s
policy committee which helped draft the statement. “It’s a concept
that makes common sense. If all of your teachers know your full name and
something about you, chances are you won’t slip through the cracks.
In fact, small schools foster more active learning among students and teachers
alike,” Ames said.
statement on small schools and small learning communities is an integral
piece of the National Forum’s comprehensive policy agenda for middle-grades
improvement. The Forum has outlined its priorities for lasting positive change
for young adolescents: a separate designation for middle-grades schooling
as a distinct phase of education; a focus on adolescent literacy with support
for advancing reading, writing, and thinking in all the content areas; qualified
teachers in every middle-grades classroom who not only know their subjects
but also how to teach those subjects to young adolescents; smaller learning
communities that help personalize instruction so students have the support
they need; additional resources for middle-grades schools and students, including
more targeted research and dissemination of successful practices.
The policy on small schools
and small learning communities is the fourth in a series of statements published
by the Forum. For the full text of
the Forum policy statement, visit http://www.mgforum.org/Policy/policy.asp.
To learn more about the National Forum and its mission to improve middle-grades
education, visit www.mgforum.org.#
Alison Cohen is Media Relations
Manager for Education Development Center, an international nonprofit organization
that conducts research and creates materials to advance learning in the
U.S. and more than 50 countries. Visit www.edc.org.