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Young teens undergo multiple physical, social-emotional, and intellectual changes, which have been viewed as setting them apart from both younger and older students. The basic concept of a separate middle school was to better focus on and serve the special needs of children in their early teens. The question is whether middle schools, as currently designed and operated, are performing that function well. Or, as some have alleged, do they unintentionally encourage poor behavior, alienation, disengagement, and low achievement? This monograph is a comprehensive assessment of the American middle school. It presents observations on a variety of very real issues — troubling social climates and associated behavioral problems, teachers who lack subject-matter expertise, parents who seem uninvolved, among others. The authors offer ways of tackling these issues: reassessing the organization of grades K-12; specifically assisting the students most in need; finding ways to prevent disciplinary problems; working with proven professional-development models; helping parents understand the schools goals and methods and how they can help their children learn at home; and exploring how other countries promote the well-being of and provide positive school climates for students of comparable age to support academic achievement.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Goals, Terms, Methods, and Organization

  • Chapter Two

    A Brief History of the U.S. Middle School

  • Chapter Three

    Core Practices of the Middle School Concept

  • Chapter Four

    Academic Achievement

  • Chapter Five

    Conditions for Student Learning

  • Chapter Six


  • Chapter Seven

    Promoting Teacher Competence Through Training

  • Chapter Eight

    Parental Involvement

  • Chapter Nine

    Whole-School Reform Models

  • Chapter Ten

    Conclusions and Recommendations

  • Appendix A

    Characteristics of U.S. Public Schools Serving Middle Grades

  • Appendix B

    International and National Data Sets

  • Appendix C

    Factor Analysis of Health Behavior in School-Aged Children

  • Appendix D

    Research Recommendations

The research described in this report was conducted by RAND Education for Edna McConnell Clark Foundation.

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