Juvonen et al., (2004) explains that a teachers in depth understanding of mathematics in particular is extremely important in middle school. The authors also point out that learning more difficult math in the eighth grade such as math is imports because 8th grade students who take algebra are more likely to apply to college than those that don't (Atanda, 1999). In addition the authors insists that when middle school students have teachers that have college degrees in the subject matter they are teaching the students are more likely to perform well on tests (Wilson, Floden, Ferrini-Mundy, 2001). The author further explains that Researchers who have reviewed the evidence on subject-matter training believe that students in teacher training programs should be taught not only the content but also its conceptual underpinnings and a strong reasoning ability (Wilson, Floden, and Ferrini-Mundy, 2001). Other evidence, although not derived from research on middle schools, suggests that the effects of teachers' subject-matter preparation on student performance may be cumulative (Monk and King, 1994) and may be most apparent with courses of greater difficulty (Hawk, Coble, and Swanson, 1985). It is important not only that teachers possess subject-matter expertise but also that they know how to transmit this knowledge to students (Killion, 1999; Juvonen et al., 2004, 75)."
Indeed, it appears that one of the major challenges facing middle schools in America is a lack of teacher preparation. This preparation includes learning how to teach early adolescence students in general and having enough preparation in the area of the subject matter taught. It is astounding to know that preservice preparation is so difficult for middle school teachers to attain
The RAND article also explains no research has been conducted that has concluded that students actually benefit from the middle school environment. To the contrary the article explains, there is evidence suggesting that separate schools and the transitions they require can cause problems that negatively affect students' developmental and academic progress. RAND recommends that, over the coming years, states and school districts consider alternatives to the 6-8 structure to reduce multiple transitions for students and allow schools to better align their goals across grades K-12."
The issues associated with the transition from elementary school to middle school are also apparent in the area of overall achievement Middle school. The article explains that even though there have been increases in the overall achievement scores of students, there are serious disparities in achievement particularly along racial and ethnic lines. The article asserts that nearly 70% of American students in the 8th grade do not perform at grade level in science math and reading. This is based on national achievement tests. The article explains that this achievement outcome is particularly true among Black and Latino students. The article explains that these low levels of performance are true even among Black and Latino students whose parents are college educated. To remedy this problem the author insists programs such as summer school prior to sixth grade and additional reading and math course during the middle school years.
A book entitled "Focus on the Wonder Years: Challenges Facing the American Middle School asserts that for years curriculum focus in American Middle schools has been on meeting the social, emotional, and psychological needs of early adolescents. However in more recent times the trend has been towards academic achievement. According to the authors, academic achievement has become more of a focus because of the standards and accountability pressures associated with the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. This federally mandated act requires all middle school students to be tested. In addition certain sanctions are places on schools when their students perform poorly on the test. The authors also report that Increased attention on achievement also stems from mounting criticism levied at middle schools for being academically undemanding (Carnegie, 1989; Jackson and Davis, 2000; Schmidt, McKnight, et al., 1999; Cooney, 1998a). Detractors point to the relatively poor standing of middle school students on international mathematics and science tests, to lagging test scores on state assessments, and to low performance on national tests as evidence that middle school education needs to be more challenging (Juvonen et al., 2004 28)."
Overall academic achievement is vitally important for the students and for America's standing in the world. According to the authors, American middle students are not performing as well as their counterparts in other developed countries (Juvonen et al., 2004). The authors explains that 4th grade students in America perform average in mathematics when compared to Australia, Canada, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, England, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iran, Italy, Japan, Korea, Latvia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Singapore, and Slovenia. In the 4th grade American students rank ninth (Juvonen et al., 2004).
However, middle school students in the 8th grade were below average and only five of the listed countries ranked lower than American middle school students (Juvonen et al., 2004).
The author points out the research suggest that American students do not struggle with math at the elementary school level (Juvonen et al., 2004). However at some point between 4th grade and 8th grade mathematics becomes a struggle for American students. As a result in the decline of student grades from elementary school to middle school some educators have begun to question the purpose and the value of middle schools in America (Juvonen et al., 2004). It has also been suggested that middle schools be reformed because of poor performance (Juvonen et al., 2004). Educators fear that poor performing middle schools graduate students who also perform poorly in high school (Juvonen et al., 2004).
Gender Differences in Achievement
According to an article entitled "Effects of Girls Only Curriculum during Adolescence: Performance, Persistence Engagement in Mathematics and Science" explains that a great deal of the existing research has found that high school is the time in school in which there is a decline in interest in math in students overall and among adolescent girls in particular (AAUW, 1990,1998; Shapka & Keating). The authors explains that there should be great concern about the significant decline in interests as it pertains to girls and mathematics because it can prevent girls from entering majors in college that require a great deal of advanced math. The authors assert that this disinterest in math means that girls are more likely to shy away for math-intensive-majors which often means they will make less money than their male peers who earn degrees in areas of math. The authors also assert that the lower levels of mathematical achievement amongst girls and women results in women being at a disadvantage in a society where technology and mathematics go hand in hand (Shapka & Keating).
There have long been substantial gender differences in achievement. In past years men have outperformed women. However today women are consistently outperforming men in several areas of academic achievement, particularly as it pertains to college. An article entitled "Gender-Specific Trends in the Value of Education and the Emerging Gender Gap in College Completion" in school and in college, females are now doing as well as or better than males on many of the indicators of educational attainment, and the large gaps in educational attainment that once existed between men and women have in most cases been eliminated" (Bae et al. 2000:2). In 1972, more males than females enrolled in post-secondary education (53% versus 46%); by 1997 the reverse was true, with 70% of females enrolling in college compared to 64% of males (DiPrete & Buchmann, 2003)."
The research asserts that more women than men are attending college. It seems that much of this can be attributed to the type of education and messages that girls are receiving in K-12. Even though the research indicates certain disparities as it pertains to boys and girls in high school (Math and Science), girls are still attending college at higher rates than men. As was previously mentioned in the report even though women attend college at higher rates, many of the majors women tend to earn degrees in are not in the higher paying areas of science and technology. Since the American and global economy are extremely dependent on math, science and technology, the disparity between men and women must end. Many experts in the field of education believe that gender segregated or gender specific education could be the answer to this problem.
In addition to the overall achievement problems that students face in Middle school academic achievement in general is problematic as it pertains to American students.
Perspectives and expectations (non-empirical)
As it pertains to perspectives and expectation on Challenges of MS Education and achievement overall, the literature has several suggestions. As it pertains to perspectives some experts feel that the middle school concept should be abandoned altogether. They believe that students should attend elementary from kindergarten until 8th grade. They argue that Middle school serves no purpose and the transition is too difficult for many students to overcome.