Thursday, November 11, 2010


from the EdSource Extra! Newsletter - Fall 2010 |

Suddenly the calls for improving student academic achievement seem to becoming from everywhere: President Barack Obama, NBC’s Education Nation, and several new movies focused on education reform.

But if we want to significantly increase the number of students who graduate from high school ready for work and college, we MUST start when students are younger by dramatically increasing the number of students who leave the middle grades ready to succeed in a rigorous high school curriculum.

That means these students must master key grade 6–8 academic content Common Core standards in math and English language arts, and in science and history when they are developed. It means they need to develop foundational study and organizational skills. It also means they need to understand how their middle grades achievement relates to their high school course options, and how high school courses and activities relate to their post-high school job and college opportunities. In other words, they need to begin developing a “future orientation.”

According to a landmark study by EdSource, these are the kinds of student competencies that higher-performing middle grades schools focus on developing. And they can make the difference between students who enter high school with confidence, competence, and a plan, and students who struggle to find relevance and to stay in school until graduation.

Since Gaining Ground in the Middle Grades: Why Some Schools Do Better was released on Feb. 24, 2010, more than 12,000 copies of the study materials have been downloaded. Half of the web traffic to our middle grades study is from K–12 educators around the country; the other half includes policy leaders, philanthropists and advocates, and researchers.

The importance of the middle grades to the “college and work ready agenda” is gaining traction. EdSource senior staff was invited to present the study last June at a weeklong series of events in Washington, D.C. Stops on the speaking tour included a congressional briefing on middle grades and the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act; a meeting with the Assistant Secretary of Elementary and Secondary Education Thelma Melendez and her colleagues at the Department of Education; and a visit with Institute of Education Sciences Director John Easton and Associate Commissioner for Policy and Systems Allen Ruby.

In November, EdSource staff will present the study and its policy implications to New Mexico’s Legislative Education Study Committee.

Widely covered in the media when it was released, the Gaining Ground study will be featured in upcoming stories in the Association of California School Administrators (ACSA) Leadership magazine and in Education Next this winter. In addition, EdSource will be presenting the study at the California School Boards Association annual conference in December and as a featured presentation at the California Educational Research Association conference in November.

Secondary-to-postsecondary student attainment is an important issue strand for EdSource, and we see the middle grades as a pivotal, make-or-break point in that pipeline for many students. EdSource thanks Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, for his support of the Gaining Ground main study.

See the Follow-up: Action Guide for Middle Grades Leaders for more work by EdSource coming out of that study’s data file and findings. For downloads of the Gaining Ground documents and details on upcoming presentations, go to


One of the most important findings of the EdSource middle grades study was that the leadership of the superintendent and the principal were key in driving student outcome gains.

The Stuart Foundation has provided support to help underwrite the costs of an Action Guide for Middle Grades Leaders. In addition, the United Way of Greater Los Angeles has provided support to develop six school profiles of high-performing middle grades schools in Southern California. EdSource is seeking funding for the other components of the project. Look for these new materials in spring 2011.

“The EdSource study will no doubt serve as a milestone and a marker for systemic, programmatic changes in the Intermediate Schools throughout our district for years to follow.” —Dr. Gregory S. Plutko, Deputy Superintendent Educational Services, Corona-Norco Unified School District


Supported by the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation and Reed Hastings, EdSource and its research team from Stanford and AIR have just completed a new analysis of the data file from the Gaining Groundin the Middle Grades study. This new analysis focuses on 8th grade student outcomes in General Math and Algebra I and their relatio nship to prior student achievement. Watch for our announcement when the study is released in early January.

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A scan of the winning Federal i3 and Race to the Top applications indicates that many policy leaders and educators are seeing the middle grades as a key leverage point for improving high school student attainment.

EdSource congratulates the National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform for their receipt of a federal i3 grant to improve middle grades schools in California, Illinois, and North Carolina.


●● smf's 2¢: At one time EdSource was an unquestioned source for independent data and data analysis on Education issues in California.  In recent years this independence  may have been influenced by charter school advocate/Netflix founder Reed Hastings and his substantial bankroll – IMHO EdSource is becoming more-and-more a happy consumer of Race-to-the-Top Kool-Aid.

None of this makes anyone a bad person, and we are of a united opinion about the critical importance of middle school -- but even good people have agendas!

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