With Focus on College Readiness, Panel Seeks Better Middle School Outcomes in the South

PINEHURST, N.C. – As educators prepare students to compete in a world where technology changes with blinding speed, they should focus more on young teens who too often fall behind in reading, math and science, a Southern education group said Monday.

They must get middle schoolers focused on their futures to cut down dropout rates and improve their college and career readiness, the Southern Regional Education Board urged in a draft report issued during a meeting in Pinehurst. Only about a quarter of today’s eighth-graders are projected to graduate from a two- or four-year college, the group said.

The group targeted students in seventh through ninth grades, where academic achievement slows after elementary school years.

The report, developed by a panel headed by North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue, focused on the need to improve reading and writing skills that are crucial in every career from auto repair to laboratory work. Data collected in the National Assessment of Educational Progress shows that eighth-graders in North Carolina and 10 other states in the 16-state region were less likely to be proficient in reading than in the nation as a whole, though most showed an improvement from 2007 to 2009.

“A kid who has trouble with reading and literacy is going to have trouble with math, is going to have trouble with science, and is going to have trouble integrating the things you need in order to get technology and engineering results,” said Delaware state Sen. David Sokola, a senior lab technician for DuPont’s experimental station and a former public school teacher.

The report calls for states to better train their current teachers in reading instruction and for states to help aspiring educators to learn how to teach reading and writing in every subject. It’s also time to try new and dramatic steps to help students who are falling behind, said Perdue, a former ninth-grade teacher.

“Somebody has to come up with an idea that you can pull them out of the traditional classroom and dump reading on top of them for six hours a day immersion reading. Why aren’t we doing some of that? If you can’t read, you can’t do anything,” Perdue said.

Other recommendations include:

 

  • Aligning middle school as a time of crucial preparation for future success rather than a mere transition period between elementary and high school.

 

  • Demanding that middle grades teachers have greater in-depth knowledge of their subjects and know how to teach in ways that engage students.

 

  • Increasing the percentage of eighth-graders taking Algebra I beyond the current 40 percent nationwide.