As part of a plan to tackle some of the academic challenges facing New York City middle schools, Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott announced last week that he’s “committing to opening at least 50 new middle schools across the city in the next two years.”
“These schools, which will be a mix of district schools and charter schools, will serve areas where there is a high need and demand for better middle schools,” said Walcott while speaking at the New York University Steinhart School of Culture, Education and Human Development.
“We will be looking to replicate the most successful models already out there. In the last few years, new charter middle schools have substantially outperformed traditional middle schools citywide. In fact, they are some of the highest-performing middle schools in our city.”
Walcott mentioned during his speech that progress had been made in elementary schools, but there remained many problems in the city’s middle schools.
“Every year since 2006, including this year, our students in grades three to five have made steady progress on the state’s math and English tests,” said Walcott. “But in grades six, seven and eight, the picture is different. Seventh and eighth grade students were the only ones in New York City to actually fall backward in performance on the state English tests.
“Similarly, on the national tests taken by fourth and eighth graders in big cities, New York City students have made significant progress since 2002, except on eighth grade reading. These results should be troubling to all of us.”
Walcott said that some of the problems in middle school could be attributed to the developing minds of young people as they go through their pre-teen and early teen years. While not specifically mentioning anyone, he said several “educators had pointed out these issues as well.
“Students hit adolescence. They suddenly have hormones. They might have their first crush…or even their first heartbreak,” said Walcott. “They move from an environment where they have a fixed desk in one classroom with one teacher to a locker in a crowded hallway full of students. And looking back on my own middle school days at JHS 192 in Queens, that was one of the hardest things-navigating the hallways and finding my way to classes.”
When the AmNews tried to contact Walcott to speak directly about his plans, this reporter was told that he had said what he needed to say in the initial speech and that he thought there wasn’t anything else to add. His spokespeople also told the AmNews that the DOE hadn’t come up with neighborhoods for the new schools and were still in the preliminary planning stage.
Earlier this year, Walcott sat down with the AmNews for an extensive interview on the school system. At that time, he was still a deputy mayor responsible for education policy. “The middle school is where we identify a number of practices and try to address the gap that happens with Black and Latino students,” he said. “That’s where it starts to increase.”
After further questioning, Walcott admitted that the gap actually starts not in the middle school but in the elementary schools. “I think part of what we’re doing from a government perspective, as well as working with the community, is making sure that we have universal pre-K programs for our students,” he said.