What is the future of middle level education? How can we elevate its importance? How can we better harness the innovative work happening right now in schools and districts and research institutions to improve the prospects and outcomes of all young adolescents through great teaching and learning, positive relationships, and expanded learning opportunities?
AMLE has embarked on a bold new initiative to rally a broad coalition of stakeholders nationally around a new vision and action agenda for young adolescents in the middle grades. We are delighted to share that the New York Life Foundation has generously awarded AMLE a $100,000 grant to support this effort.
AMLE remains steadfastly focused on the development and support of middle school educators and committed to the 16 characteristics outlined in This We Believe. However, we see our work amid a broad array of needs and activities to educate and develop young adolescents. Unfortunately, on the whole, middle level education has not been given the same degree of attention and investment as other areas of the education continuum. In recent years, early childhood education, early literacy, high school graduation, and college and career readiness have achieved greater prominence.
This lack of focus on middle level education has consequences for our country. Too many students are entering high school disengaged and behind academically. Again, compared to many other efforts preparing students for kindergarten or for college and career, there is far less programming around preparing students in the transitional middle grades to sustain gains from early education and prepare students for high school and beyond. And as a field we are not best leveraging the powerful recent research on adolescent development—cognitive, social-emotional, health—that can boost motivation and ensure long-term success of young adolescents with learning experiences tailor made for them.
Now is the time to change this. Now is the time to fully re-insert early adolescence and middle level education into the map on the road from early childhood and elementary school preparedness to high school graduation, post-secondary completion, and successful entry into the workforce, community, and civic life. We believe the collective power of a broad-based coalition is the best way to elevate the importance of our shared work.
For 2018, the New York Life Foundation-funded project enables AMLE to serve as a convener of prominent national researchers, policymakers, educators, and program providers to explore opportunities for collaboration, coordination, and potentially collective action in the area of young adolescents in the middle grades. The project has three main components.
Create a map of activity and investment in young adolescents in the middle grades
There are a number of literature and landscape reviews of research and core concepts in middle level education, some of which are offered by AMLE and its partners. But, there isn’t a full picture of activity and investment in the middle grades space: what individuals and organizations are doing and where, what impact they are trying to drive, and how much they are investing. This project will create a "map" of this activity and investment so funders and stakeholders can see what needs are being met, where there may be overlap, and what gaps exist. This would cut across research, policy and practice, in-school and out-of-school, urban, suburban and rural.
Formalize stakeholder groups
Ultimately, establishing a new vision and action agenda for young adolescents in the middle grades will rely on input from a large number of individuals and organizations with interest and expertise in middle grades education and early adolescent development. These stakeholders will also span policy, practice, and research circles, in school and out of school as well as urban, suburban, and rural. AMLE has already been organizing and facilitating an initial round of structured input sessions with more than 35 stakeholders to provide data, insight, and experience.
Convene funders and stakeholders
This project will assemble funders and stakeholders for a day-long convening to discuss the findings of the activity and investment map and come to consensus on key elements to focus on in the area of young adolescents in the middle grades. This event would serve as an important point of dialogue and organizing for the ultimate development of a new action agenda for the field.
We are still early in this initiative and it will take some time to fully gather stakeholder input and formulate a plan. We anticipate that this project will result in some momentum for collective action, seizing specific areas of opportunity many individuals and organizations across the field can work on together. If successful, we will then further engage with stakeholders on those areas of opportunity to collaboratively build out a detailed multi-year agenda for the field, which will include goals, activities, measures of success, and investments across research, policy, and practice.
AMLE is happy to engage with many stakeholders in this effort and we are grateful for the generous support of New York Life Foundation to advance this important work of collaboration. We are eager to share more of this initiative with our members throughout, and particularly at the AMLE Annual Conference in Orlando, October 25-27.