Friday, March 29, 2013

Middle School Chaos

With the current 2012/13 school year Dallas ISD has completed the 6 year transition process for all 6th grade classes to be moved from elementary schools and placed in middle schools.  In 2005, before the transfer started, it was normal for the number of disciplinary actions against students to increase about 10-30% between the 5th and 6th grade.  That percentage increase is now 441%!!!
Disciplinary actions against students by grade, Dallas ISD, 2012/13
Click on the above image to enlarge.

Now Dallas ISD has the questionable distinction of having all three middle school grades, 6th through 8th grades, as the grades with the most disciplinary problems. They are all three even worse than 9th grade, the previous grade with the highest number of disciplinary actions recorded. Is anybody watching?

Yes, parents are watching, and have been watching for some time!  Notice how the number of children being withdrawn from DISD after 5th grade has been increasing, especially since 2006 when the transfer of 6th grade into middle school started:
Students leaving Dallas ISD after 5th and 9th grade over past decade.
Click on above chart to enlarge.
This chart also shows the wonderful progress DISD has made with the transfer into high school and then from 9th grade to 10th grade.  We are now loosing less than half of the students we used to loose during this critical transfer. Our 10th grade enrollments are some of the largest in DISD history while the 9th grade enrollments are some of the lowest in decades due to the elimination of the "9th grade bulge."
Similar patterns relating to the discipline problems in middle schools have been documented across the nation.  Thousands of middle schools have closed over the past 20 years.  School districts have paid attention to mounting research that middle schools are damaging to children. (See a collection of such research at .)
There are now over 4,000 more K-8 schools in the US as that alternative has been taken repeatedly.  Rosemont Elementary School in DISD is now in the process of that transition into being a K-8 school.  They will not be the last DISD school to make that transition!   As parents see the research they will demand change.  The damage in middle school is too obvious.
Children should not go through the puberty transition among strangers.  The years from age 11 to age 14 are a very delicate time that should be spent with teachers who have known the child for as many years as is possible. Discipline problems will not erupt with the monumental force they now do within DISD during the 6th, 7th, and 8th grades, if those grades were in elementary schools.  That is well documented with 6th graders, and with all grades across the nation when you look at K-8 schools.
Addendum: In June 2013 the proposed 2013/14 budget was introduced with a decrease of teachers planned for middle schools, moving from 24/1 to 25/1 student/teacher ratios.  This move will only increase the damage to achievement happening in middle schools.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

A letter to your child

A letter to your child can become the most valuable gift.

Especially as children advance to the teen years, they suffer more and more assaults on their potential to achieve. Parents worry about the many different things that may happen to their child, but achievement in school is usually central. How do you motivate your child?

A simple letter to your child can, over the years, evolve to be the most important message one human can give to another. It serves as evidence of the parental concern that helps secure and motivate a child.

In your letter tell your child of your dreams for them, what you hope they achieve in life. Include family history and stories you want your child to remember.   Remember, this letter may eventually be shared by them with their own children and grandchildren. It can help them better understand their roots, where and who they came from.  It represents that important connection to history.

Some schools have projects to encourage such letters.  They archive these priceless letters for a decade in a 500-pound, vault bolted to the floor in the school lobby, the school time-capsule. That is what the School Archive Project, covered on this blog, does.  But do not wait for such a project in your child's school to write your letter. Each child should always have such a letter from each parent in their scrap book or photo album.  Additional letters should be written every few years, even annually if possible.

Community leaders around the nation, including Mayor Mike Rawlings here in Dallas, are struggling with efforts to improve community mental health. The costs for failure in this area are monumental. But, for each person to write such a simple letter to each of their children is a major step in the direction of improving community mental health. The discussion of what really matters in life will happen more often. The simple writing of a letter, and the reading of it, will help increase the frequency of those priceless parent/child conversations about life. A child familiar with such a focus always does better in school. They can more easily deal with the challenges we all face in life. 

Bill Betzen