Landmark education research aims to prepare nation’s middle school students for high school

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David Chard, Dean of the Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education & Human Development, and two leading SMU faculty investigators, Reid Lyon and Leanne Ketterlin-Geller, are part of the national research team working on the George W. Bush Institute‘s newest education initiative, Middle School Matters.

The program focuses on using proven practices to prepare middle school students to successfully enter high school. Former first lady Mrs. Laura W. Bush announced the program at Stovall Middle School of the Aldine Independent School District in Houston.

“Middle school is the last and best chance to prepare students for a successful high school career,” said Mrs. Bush in announcing the program. “Research shows with systematic, intensive interventions that students who started middle school behind can catch up.”

Nearly one-third of America’s young people fail to graduate from high school in four years.

“Leaders and teachers in middle schools across the country are looking for strategies and practices that will help their students prepare to be successful in high school and beyond,” said Chard. “Middle School Matters is a bold attempt to identify the strategies and practices supported by strong research to ensure that all middle schools are effective.”

Middle School Matters is the most comprehensive research-based program to be applied to middle schools. The Institute has partnered with the nation’s top researchers to integrate, for the first time, proven practices that yield significant advances in middle school student achievement and readiness for high school. Implemented as a total package, Middle School Matters provides the proven mix of interventions to guarantee success.

Researchers developing Middle School Matters have identified 11 elements as critical for middle school success. These elements include concepts such as “school leadership” and “reading and reading interventions.” Middle School Matters incorporates key benchmarks, such as the ability to read for learning, write to communicate and perform complex math equations at grade level. Under each of the 11 elements, a research team convened by the Bush Institute prescribes 5-8 data-driven specifications that include practical examples of how to best implement the research in the classroom.

“At the Bush Institute, we think big, work together, and get results,” said James K. Glassman, executive director of the Bush Institute. “Middle School Matters will dramatically transform our partner middle schools and create an environment where students enter high school ready to do the work.”

Middle School Matters will be implemented in three phases. The program is currently in Phase One, which includes building the platform and ensuring that all components work together cohesively. Phase Two will pilot the program in 10-15 schools. Each pilot school will undergo a tailored needs assessment and will be matched with a support team to assist in the implementation of the Middle School Matters specifications over two years.

Phase Three will evaluate the pilot programs and scale the initiative to engage more schools.

Initial funding for Middle School Matters has been generously provided by a $500,000 donation from the Meadows Foundation.

“The Meadows Foundation has long believed that middle school is a critical transition period for young people and we must provide special attention to these students to ensure their academic success,” said Linda Evans, president and CEO of the the Meadows Foundation. “We applaud the Bush Institute for taking the lead to develop effective strategies to improve middle school students’ outcomes and appreciate the opportunity to partner with them to focus on this effort.”

Other collaborators include America’s Promise, Civic Enterprises, Southern Regional Education Board, Center for Brain Health at the University of Texas, Dallas, and Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University.

“America’s Promise Alliance, Civic Enterprises and the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University are excited about partnering with the Bush Institute,” said John Bridgeland, president and CEO of Civic Enterprises. “Middle School Matters is addressing a very critical part of the pipeline in helping students stay in school and be successful once they leave. The Institute’s focus on research-based strategies is an excellent one
and we look forward to working in tandem with this initiative.”

SMU is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls nearly 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools.

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