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Middle School Restructuring Has Its Problems

March 15, 1992

I am writing regarding your Feb. 23 article, "Officials Urge Restructuring in More Schools."

As a teacher at Paul Revere, a junior high that just became a middle school this year, I want to point out two major problems with our middle school in the hope that other schools can avoid them.

The concept of a middle school made up of sixth, seventh and eighth grades is excellent. The three grades fit together much better than seventh, eighth and ninth did. Most of us were in favor of this change because it would benefit our high school by allowing more subjects to be offered.

The first problem is the loss of instructional time. Unfortunately, the "one size fits all" middle school plan from Los Angeles Unified School District has caused instructional time to be cut drastically. Students in the seventh and eighth grades at Revere will lose more than 50 hours of instruction each year. The sixth-grade class has the same amount of instructional time as in previous years.

J. D. Gaydowski, principal of Paul Revere, was quoted in the article as saying that "except for a few reluctant teachers the restructuring has been a great success." The view is very different from the academic classroom.

In a survey taken in December, 29% of the Revere teachers asked that the current plan be dropped. The group consisted primarily of academic teachers from the seventh and eighth grades, plus others who were having trouble completing their curriculum. I work with a team of seventh-grade academic teachers, and none of us can complete our curriculum in the time given. We are faced with removing valuable units of instruction.

The second problem is the load on the teachers. At Revere we have a separate homeroom of about 40 students and five teaching classes of 35 to 40 students. This year a seventh non-instructional class of 30 was added for each teacher--rolling-skating, checkers, basketball, etc. Instructional time is taken to provide this extra class. Next semester, Mr. Gaydowski is proposing advisory groups, which means each teacher will get an eighth group of students. Instructional time will be used for this also.

The number of students an academic teacher at Revere was responsible for last year was about 180. This year we are responsible for up to 250 and it will be closer to 300 next semester. Elective and physical education teachers have many more. Needless to say, we cannot provide any personal attention and may not even know everyone's name.

This does not have to be. Other middle schools, even in L.A. Unified, function without cutting instructional time. They have chosen not to have separate homerooms, non-instructional classes and advisory groups. Their teachers are not overloaded and can concentrate on teaching students and providing personal attention.

Over the past five years, studies have shown that American students are not measuring up in other subjects as well--reading, writing, history and geography. We should not reduce instructional time in these areas either.

I would urge parents, teachers and staff in the schools slated to be reconfigured to go into the planning with the preservation of instructional time as a primary goal. There is so much going on when you plan reconfiguration that even such a basic goal can become secondary. That is what happened to us.

At Revere we will evaluate our program again later this semester. Hopefully we will find ways to increase instructional time and decrease the load on the teachers.


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