An article under analysis «Renewing the Middle School: The Manufactured Crisis» by Paul S. George was published in November 2009 in the Middle School Journal. Paul George, the author, is a scholar in the field of middle school education. He has been conducting researches focused on middle schools for several decades. In the article Paul George presents the conclusions from the results of his investigation. Viewing the current system of middle education from several perspectives, and considering the financial and social sides of the problem, the author replies to some critical arguments concerning the system of middle education.
Paul George analyzes the K-8 schools as one of the ways for middle school reforming considering possible consequences of this reform. The author explains the reasons for the appearance of the social prejudices concerning the ways for enhancing the proficiency of the population. George (2009) emphasizes the fact that the decision makers are inclined to shift their responsibility for the level of educational system onto educators. The author notes that middle schools are better than ever, though the level of the teachers’ stress significantly increased. In order to find the way out from the existing situation, the leaders need to be aimed at social justice and looking for solutions instead of shifting the responsibilities.
The major thesis of the article is that shifting the responsibility for all weak sides of contemporary schools on educators is senseless, and the financial side is to be taken into consideration as well. The work contains the analysis of the role of middle schools in the process of child’s development and possible ways for enhancing their effectiveness. As cited in George (2009) Rothstein (2004) admitted that “the problem is not with the schools, but with the economic, social, personal, and spiritual supports that are vital to positive child development and school success” (p. 51). Researching the middle school grades for several decades the scholar paid attention to the facts that is often ignored by the authorities. The efforts of the school educators are unable to compensate lack of state investment or child’s distress caused by the family poverty. George (2009) noted that “The schools, the teachers, the parents, and the students are the victims of the crisis, not its perpetrators” (p. 51).
Summary of the article
George (2009) opposes the latest tendency for criticizing the existing system of middle education. Drawing conclusions from his personal experience of working with middle grades, the author notes that the middle schools are better than ever and they are appreciated by the majority of pupils’ parents. He analyzes Florida middle grades learners’ achievements translated into grades and makes a conclusion that the grades of the learners are better than those in elementary or high schools. George defines social, economic, and spiritual support as the most important aspects having impact on school success of a child. These are leaders who are to realize the importance of these aspects and making the appropriate decisions to change not only middle school but the attitude towards its problems and requirements.
George (2009) noted that “Schools can never overcome fundamental problems that come from homes debilitated by poverty, and states and communities unable or unwilling to deal with economic or educational inequity” (p. 52). It is important that the scholar looks for the roots of the problem instead of struggling against its consequences. The author criticizes the attractive logos for education chosen by the leaders such as “all children ready for school” or “no child is left behind” pointing at the gap between these insignificant words and the realities of the present day educational system. The leaders rarely go beyond the criticism of middle schools and often are unable to analyze the pre-conditions and cultural context of the current state of affairs for taking measures and reforming the educational system. George insists that not only educators’ efforts, motivation and proficiency are sufficient for the positive development of the learners. Increased stress of the present day educators is rather harmful than beneficial for the middle grades learners. The author criticizes the tendency of blaming the victims, while the readers are expected to make a conclusion that considering the whole range of meaningful aspects is one of essential qualities of a good leader.
George criticizes the decision of urban districts to eliminate middle schools giving preference to K-8 schools. The scholar tries to be objective viewing the advantages and disadvantages of this decision from different perspectives. George (2009) admits that he is not against this decision in general, but he hesitates if “impoverished urban districts will have the resources or the energy to do the right things for young adolescents in K–8 schools if they never got around to doing it right in separate 6–8 middle schools” (p. 54). The author means that this reform is not a panacea for the system of education, while further improvement of K-8 schools is required, though there is no financial basis for it. A leader is to realize the importance of investment and reforming all kinds of schools instead of altering the structure.
Reflection and personal evaluation of the article
I think that the arguments chosen by the author for disproving the criticism of the contemporary middle grades schools are rather weighty. I agree that people criticizing the existing system of education ignore the financial and spiritual sides of the problem. Looking for the ways out from the existing situation, George focuses on personal qualities of a successful leader who is able to reform the school and enhance its effectiveness. Other researchers pointed at the importance of the leader’s qualities as well. Weller (2004) noted that “it was the principal who made the most significant difference in the transformation of the school from a loose collection of individual classrooms to an effective, connected school with a shared mission and successful students’ outcome” (p. 38). After reading the article I realized that leader’s significant role in transformation of the school is undeniable, but effective reforming is possible only on the condition that the economic and spiritual aspects are taken into consideration.
Notwithstanding the fact that the language of the article is official, mentioning the educational logos and numerous narrow-mindedness concerning middle schools the author expresses his attitude towards the existing state of affairs. Evans-Andris (2010) noted that “Leadership involves the ability to persuade individuals to consider innovative ideas and actions” (p. 81). George’s article might be helpful for development of qualities required for effective leadership in principals and teachers. I agree that only in case of focusing on personal qualities of present day leaders and paying attention to their spirituality, enhancing the effectiveness of middle school education would be possible.
The author managed to reach his main goals of educating leaders and influencing the public opinion concerning the ways for effective reforming of the existing system of middle education.
The article contains criticism of the decision to eliminate middle schools in favor of K-8 schools, the author does not suggest some concrete measures that need to be taken, which I consider to be a weak point of the article. On the other hand, he defines the most important principles that need to be taken into consideration while planning the further reformation of the system of education. George uses statistical data supporting his thesis which makes the reasoning more persuasive. It is important that the article includes a comprehensive analysis of the current state of middle schools and criticizes the tendency to shift the responsibility on educators. It means that the question of teachers’ discrimination is raised at last and people might get a more realistic view of different sides of the problem.
- Evans-Andris, M. (2010). Changing for Good: Sustaining School Improvement. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin
- George, S.P. (2009). Renewing the Middle School: The Manufactured Crisis. Middle School Journal, 51 – 55.
- Weller, L. D. (2004). Quality Middle School Leadership: Eleven Central Skills Areas. Lanham, MD: The Rowman and Littlefield Publishing Group.