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Focus on the Wonder Years

Focus on the Wonder Years: Challenges Facing the American Middle School

Jaana Juvonen
Vi-Nhuan Le
Tessa Kaganoff
Catherine Augustine
Louay Constant
Copyright Date: 2004
Edition: 1
Published by: RAND Corporation
Pages: 178
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  • Book Info
    Focus on the Wonder Years
    Book Description:

    Young teens undergo multiple changes that seem to set them apart from other students. But do middle schools actually meet their special needs? The authors describe some of the challenges and offer ways to tackle them, such as reassessing the organization of grades K-12; specifically assisting the students most in need; finding ways to prevent disciplinary problems; and helping parents understand how they can help their children learn at home.

    eISBN: 978-0-8330-3615-5
    Subjects: Education, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-ii)
  2. Preface
    (pp. iii-iv)
  3. The RAND Corporation Quality Assurance Process
    (pp. v-vi)
  4. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  5. Figures
    (pp. xi-xii)
  6. Tables
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  7. Summary
    (pp. xv-xx)
  8. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xxi-xxii)
  9. Abbreviations
    (pp. xxiii-xxiv)
  10. CHAPTER ONE Goals, Terms, Methods, and Organization
    (pp. 1-8)

    The Wonder Years, the sitcom that appeared on American television from 1988 to 1993, describes the problems and dreams of a suburban boy coming of age in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The boy’s middle school years, as the show portrayed them, were believably complicated but “wonderful” nonetheless. Would a show about the experiences of young teens today paint the same picture? Can we rest easy knowing that the American middle school serves this population of students well?

    The reputation of the American middle school today challenges any notion of “wonder years.” Even the mildest public criticism acknowledges that...

  11. CHAPTER TWO A Brief History of the U.S. Middle School
    (pp. 9-19)

    To understand the challenges in today’s middle schools, it is helpful to have some understanding of their history. This chapter provides a short description of the emergence of middle-grade education in the United States and shows how it has changed. We tell the story chronologically and, at the end of the chapter, summarize some common themes and suggest ways to apply the insights history provides to meeting today’s challenges. Among the questions this chapter addresses are the following:

    What was the rationale for creating a separate level of schooling for young teens?

    How have middle school goals and educational practices...

  12. CHAPTER THREE Core Practices of the Middle School Concept
    (pp. 20-27)

    In our brief history of the U.S. middle school in Chapter Two, we described the emergence in the early 1980s of a new concept for middle schools. Part of this new concept was a recognition that the needs of young teens are different from those of elementary and high school students and that middle schools should be organized in such a way that the students’ developmental needs are met. Today’s concerns about students’ academic achievement have led to increased scrutiny of middle schools and have fueled ongoing debates about the proper role, structure, and organization of middle schools.

    Guided by...

  13. CHAPTER FOUR Academic Achievement
    (pp. 28-45)

    As Chapter Two reviewed, middle schools have shifted focus several times between academic achievement and meeting the social, emotional, and psychological needs of early adolescents. In recent years, the pendulum has swung back toward achievement. This emphasis has been further reinforced by the standards and accountability movement and NCLB, the 2001 federal legislation that mandates testing of all students in the middle grades and imposes sanctions on schools designated as “low performing.”

    As before, today’s focus on achievement stems in part from the belief that middle school students should begin to think about and prepare for college (Riley, 1997). Such...

  14. CHAPTER FIVE Conditions for Student Learning
    (pp. 46-63)

    The preceding chapter suggested that the middle school years are not marked by the large gains on standardized achievement tests that one might expect from the emerging reasoning abilities and improved cognitive processing that take place at this age (Keating, 1990). However, from the review of the research in Chapter Two, it should now be evident that we need to examine academic performance of young teens in relation to other indicators of their adjustment as they transition to middle schools.

    This chapter focuses on students’ social-emotional well-being, engagement, school context, and climate. We begin with a brief review of studies...

  15. CHAPTER SIX Principals
    (pp. 64-72)

    As the organizational leaders of their schools, principals are in the position to foster school climate, thereby influencing both the learning conditions of students and the working conditions of teachers. Principals are also in the position to endorse and implement a particular reform or practice for their schools, establish procedures, prioritize goals for teachers and students, and monitor whether the procedures have been followed and the goals met.

    Although principals have not been studied to the same extent as teachers or students, there is a growing body of research on school leadership, particularly because the increasing pressure to hold schools...

  16. CHAPTER SEVEN Promoting Teacher Competence Through Training
    (pp. 73-83)

    Many middle school advocates believe that improving education for middle school students hinges on improving the competence of teachers (Mizell, 2002; Cooney and Bottoms, 2003). Teacher capacity can be improved through the training teachersreceive beforethey begin teaching (known aspreservice training) and the training they receive on an ongoing basisafterthey begin teaching (known asin-service trainingorprofessional development). Among the questions this chapter addresses are the following:

    How are middle school teachers trained?

    How important is it that teachers have training specific to the subject they teach?

    How can professional development compensate when teacher preparation...

  17. CHAPTER EIGHT Parental Involvement
    (pp. 84-97)

    Most educators and parents believe that a child’s academic success and adaptive functioning in school are related not only to how well principals run the schools and how capably teachers teach but also to the degree to which parents get involved in their children’s schooling. However, the association between parental involvement and student performance is complex and varies depending on the type of involvement being considered. The goal of this chapter is to shed light on the connection between parental involvement and student achievement. We are particularly interested in the concern that parental involvement drops off when students transition into...

  18. CHAPTER NINE Whole-School Reform Models
    (pp. 98-111)

    Many innovations and programs have been designed to improve student outcomes and address other perceived problems at the middle school level, but most have been implemented in too piecemeal a fashion (Beane, 2001) to lead to widespread and lasting change. So, the following are among the questions this chapter will address:

    What are some of the major reform efforts at work in middle schools?

    What are their goals and primary features?

    Do the reforms show promise for addressing the challenges middle schools face today?

    The Comprehensive School Reform Program (CSR) provides federal funds to help schools implement and sustain comprehensive...

  19. CHAPTER TEN Conclusions and Recommendations
    (pp. 112-119)

    In this monograph, we have attempted to integrate data and research on various aspects of middle schools to paint a comprehensive picture of teaching and learning in these schools. This final chapter provides a broader evaluation of the state of the American middle school in light of our review.

    As we have indicated throughout our review, there are topics that remain to be explored and types of research that could help answer many important questions and provide additional guidance to policymakers and practitioners. Lack of research on some middle school topics and the absence of certain types of studies limited...

  20. APPENDIX A Characteristics of U.S. Public Schools Serving Middle Grades
    (pp. 120-124)
  21. APPENDIX B International and National Data Sets
    (pp. 125-129)
  22. APPENDIX C Factor Analysis of Health Behavior in School-Aged Children
    (pp. 130-132)
  23. APPENDIX D Research Recommendations
    (pp. 133-136)
  24. References
    (pp. 137-156)