There is a lesson for parents and educators in the tragic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Jerry Weast told Hoover Middle School parents Sept. 13.
The New Orleans residents stuck in the Superdome and other shelters in New Orleans were the ones with the fewest financial resources, and likely the least or lowest-quality education, the Montgomery County school superintendent said. If education opens doors then so too does lack of education keep them closed.
“You will not have the ticket to ride if you have a middle schooler that doesn’t get out of pre-calculus at the high school level, or better, in math,” Weast said.
Weast’s speech at Hoover focused on the role of middle school education in preparing students for the rigors of high school, of college, and of entering a global job market.
Current Hoover students “are going to be running against children that speak many different languages from many different areas of the world, most of them with high level math skills and high level communication and technology skills,” he said.
At the same time, average college tuition has doubled and average test scores for college admissions have increased dramatically during Weast’s tenure.
All that means that students need to begin preparing earlier and earlier to reach higher achievement goals by the end of high school. Completing calculus might mean taking math A — the at-level class for sixth grade — in elementary school.
“Middle school’s just going to be a bridge, a transition that keeps them on the right flight path, so they can have options and opportunities, and aren’t left behind,” Weast said.
“We owe it to your children, your children deserve it, and frankly, none of us have any choice about it. It’s high level, high rigor for every child.”
While Weast emphasized increased rigor in math, science, language and technology, county schools are in the midst of plans to reform middle school education overall.
In March, the Board of Education received the results of a comprehensive, one-year audit of middle school education in the county, conducted by an outside consulting firm.
A steering committee of parents, teachers, and administrators is using the 32 recommendations from the audit report to develop a middle school reform action plan.
That plan will likely include a realigned curriculum with greater student choice, changes in schedules and course offerings, increased attention to technology education and a strong focus on professional development.
Weast has championed early childhood education and all-day kindergarten, an effort that began in 1999, though Potomac has been one of the last areas to implement all-day K, with only a few schools starting this year. The first students to benefit from the countywide reforms are now reaching middle school.
County high schools have seen changes, too, and received national recognition in Newsweek rankings last spring.
But middle schools have gotten little attention until now.
“If you look at all of MCPS' strategic plan, a lot of the emphasis has always been in elementary and high school,” said Linda Ferrell, acting director of middle school instruction and achievement. “The resources have not been allocated to middle school.”
“It was important to implement the early childhood initiative because that was a group we could watch from the beginning,” Ferrell said. The early childhood reforms centered on research-based practices, many of which can be adjusted and applied to the middle school level.
Some examples are already cropping up. All 38 county middle schools will offer extended learning opportunities this year, both in the form of extended day and extended year classes.
The Middle School Magnet Consortium, which began this year, is pioneering some of the reforms that will likely follow system-wide. Three county middle schools — Argyle in Silver Spring, Loiderman in Wheaton, and Parkland in Rockville — will respectively offer magnet programs in information technology, aerospace, and arts and humanities.
Those changes prompted deputy superintendent Freida K. Lacey to declare 2005-06 "the year of the middle school” in a speech last month.
“The audit really confirmed a lot of things we really knew we needed to do because they were done at the elementary level,” Ferrell said. “We now know that we need to put those same resources … into middle school.”