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Helping middle schoolers

You’d think this would be a pretty basic thing to do.

Texas Sen. Florence Shapiro was stunned a few years ago when state auditors answered her request with a white surrender flag: They could not tell her which programs designed to help struggling, low-income students worked and which didn’t.

Billions of dollars flow into programs designed to boost poor students and to keep them in school. But there are too many variables to measure their impact.

The Plano Republican, chair of the Senate Education Committee, plans to team up with Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, on legislation that gives more personalized attention to middle school students.

One of her favorite lines: “Students drop out in the sixth grade and walk out in the ninth grade.”

The focus will be on reading, writing and math, plus absenteeism and behavior for struggling sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students. She’s still working out the details to draft the bill.

I know that measuring performance is a challenging thing to do, but you’d think that with all the emphasis we’ve put on standardized testing we’d have some idea what sorts of things tend to help students with their test scores, if nothing else. It’s not like we’ve just started with this stuff. Surely other states must have some ideas we can crib. Let’s get with the program already.

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  1. Ed Fuller says:

    My research on middle schools (funded by the Texas Business and Education Council) provides some ideas about what effective middle schools to get kids on the college-ready track.

    More time–double-blocking math classes and holding voluntary saturday school;
    More engaging instruction–using technology to engage kids in math;
    Smaller class sizes for struggling students;
    Stable groups of well-qualified teachers
    Principals with a clear vision and high expectations for teachers and students

    The report can be found at:

    Scott Van Beck of Houston A+ Challenge is actually taking this research and working with 5 middle schools in the greater Houston area to improve ,middle school outcomes.

    Ed Fuller (UT Austin; [email protected])

  2. This line is exactly why so many programs being forced into education by the business world do not work:

    “But there are too many variables to measure their impact.”

    We are not working with widgets. To say a kid who failed a standardized test is behind is not accurate. I have had highly gifted students with straight A averages fail those tests due to anxiety. They are not good pressure test takers. Give them a project based assessment and they knock the top off of it, and it is an actual authentic assessment of their abilities.

    Ed’s ideas are good, but when you double block math you cut short the time in other core subjects. You really should be double blocking science, too. That is a course that should never be taught any other way than hands-on, and they do not get the time to do it.

    Why just integrate technology into math? The focus should not just be on math all of the time. It has to be all subjects, and the foundation subject is reading. Put the money there earlier to make sure those kids have the tools/skills they need to be successful readers. The math test is more of a reading test than a math test anyway. It is an unfair way to assess math skills.

    “Stable groups of well qualified teachers” does not say much. Again it is arbitrary, but for the sake of argument we can agree he means quality teachers stay in education.

    I agree with Ed’s findings, but they need to go a bit further than he suggests. Principals with a clear vision is a great start, but it needs to include ALL administration in the vision part of it. Larger district administrators can become disconnected with each other and the classrooms due to the enormity of the job. We can thank the legislature for always adding more and more layers of bureaucracy to the system to tie administrators up and keep them away from being in touch with current classroom needs. I’m not bashing admins. They work hard and stay busy. There just is never time for them to see what teachers really need and there is not time for teachers to be able to share or show admins what they need. Both are swamped in paperwork.

  3. Ed Kless says:

    I am running as a Libertarian against Senator Shapiro in November. I am running is a straight up race, there is no Democrat in the race.

    I believe what Texas needs is more school choice for parents. I woulds do this with more charter schools and education vouchers. We need to start subsidizing public education and stop subsidizing public schools.

    Please visit my campaign site at or visit my Facebook page at If you like what you see please consider passing it on to your friends.