Schools to Watch® (STW): The National Forum has identified a list of criteria to describe high-performing schools that serve students in the middle grades. Such schools are academically excellent, responsive to the developmental changes of young adolescents, and socially equitable, with high expectations for all students. After a rigorous national search, in 1999-2000 the Forum selected four Schools to Watch® that exemplified many of the criteria: Jefferson Middle School (Champaign, Illinois), Barren County Middle School (Glasgow, Kentucky), Freeport Intermediate School (Freeport, Texas), and Thurgood Marshall Middle School (Chicago, Illinois). These schools have since received national recognition for their programs and practices and have been featured by the National Forum in case studies and online tours. In collaboration with NMSA, NAESP, NASSP, and the NSDC, the National Forum piloted its Schools to Watch® State program in 2002, providing extensive training to middle-grades leaders in California, Georgia, and North Carolina and equipping them to run STW programs in their states. In 2003 Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, and Virginia, joined the program. New York and Ohio joined in 2004. Michigan and Arkansas joined in 2005 with Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Utah joining in 2006. The Forum continued to expand the program in 2007 with New Jersey and Oregon and then in 2008 with Florida.
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Comprehensive School Reform (CSR): The National Forum counts among its membership developers of several comprehensive school reform models aimed at bringing about whole-school change. These CSR models are unique because they focus on the middle-grades. A USDE Grant was awarded to the National Forum and in 2006 four of its CSR partners began to develop a high-quality mathematics enhancement toolkit.
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Engaging Key Stakeholders
By continually speaking with one voice and informing stakeholders about the need for educators to adopt new policies, programs, and instructional practices, the Forum changes the discourse about middle-grades education and mobilizes others to act on behalf of the nation’s middle-grades schools.
Advocacy: The message of the middle grades role in student success in high school and beyond is a priority effort. The National Forum unites with other partners to bring the voice of middle grades to federal policy makers. This united effort resulted in the introduction fo the Success in the Middle Act in the House and Senate in 2007.
Policy Statements: The Forum prepares policy statements and recommendations on critical education issues, including ability grouping, preparation and certification for middle-grades teachers, high-stakes testing, small learning communities, and grade configuration. The Forum disseminates these recommendations broadly to facilitate reforms.
Postsecondary Access: The Forum also seeks to unite stakeholders in promoting education beyond high school for middle-grades students. With funding from Lumina Foundation for Education, the Forum and the League of United Latin American Citizens launched the PALMS Project (Postsecondary Access for Latino Middle-Grades Students). Through PALMS, the Forum and its partners identify programs that are effectively reaching the parents of Latino middle-grades students with information about how to prepare their children for college. More . . .
National Conferences: The Forum seeks continuing opportunities to bring together policy makers and other education leaders. Each June at the National Forum Schools to Watch® Conference, all new and redesignated STW schools bring the middle grades message to the Hill.
Another example was in the summer of 2002, in conjunction with the Academy for Educational Development (AED) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), the National Forum convened a meeting of state education officials, policy makers, and advocates to explore the opportunities provided by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 to improve the teaching and achievement of young adolescents.
A high priority of the National Forum is strengthening the capacity of current and future middle-grades leaders. To spur middle-grades school improvement in the South, the National Forum convened key education leaders as part of the Southern Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform. This Forum sought to improve middle-grades education in 10 Southern states: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee. In 2003, John Harrison and Associates took over as the host organization for this group. The National, Southern, and other regional Forums plan to remain closely linked in the future.
To assist those who share its vision for high-performing schools and wish to increase the pace of middle-grades reform, the National Forum has developed a variety of tools, including a leadership development curriculum which is now available for purchase. The Forum ran a Leadership Institute based on this program in the spring of 2003. In the spring of 2005, the National Forum co-sponsored the Governor William Winter Principal’s Leadership Institute with Mid South Middle Start and the Southern Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform which featured the Forum’s Leadership Training Curriculum.