Middle Schools Reflect Essential School Ideas

The past decade’s move from “junior high schools” to “middle schools” came from a growing understanding of young adolescents’ developmental needs, informed by the groundbreaking 1989 “Turning Points” report from the Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development. Now new partnerships are building between Essential schools and the middle school reform movement, with support from the Turning Points Middle Grades School State Policy Initiative. In Boston, Carnegie funds CES’s regional Center for Collaborative Education (CCE) to work with 16 of Boston’s 23 middle schools as they make changes like these, which reflect both Turning Points philosophy and Essential School principles:

  • Flexible schedules, groupings, academic focus, and learning opportunities.
  • Small communities of learners coached by teams of teachers, creating a sense of belonging, a feeling among kids that their teachers know and watch out for them, and a diverse group of peers who know each other well and develop trust, a sense of safety, and the ability to learn together.
  • Advisory groups that meet often enough so every student has a teacher who knows him or her well, fostering a school culture of decency and mutual respect.
  • Academic work that crosses subject-area lines, and the time for teachers to meet and plan that work together so that it meets their students’ needs.
  • Structures that keep decision-making on curriculum and scheduling with teachers and kids in the team and in the building.
  • Partnerships with families that treat them as allies in decisions about kids’ lives and education.
  • Connections with the community, as a learning resource and a place where students can actively contribute, collaborate, and connect academic learning with the things that are concrete to them.