in School Leadership

Middle Child Syndrome

“An average school I would want my children to attend”

The following excerpt recently appeared in the Washington Post in Valerie Strauss’ column, The Answer Sheet, under the heading above.  Its author, Craig Hochbein, is an assistant professor of educational leadership in the College of Education at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania.

“J-town represents what is wrong with current judging and ranking of schools. Like many schools across the country, J-town will not be identified as a persistently low-achieving school, nor cited as a top school in the state. For many educators, this limbo-like designation has become welcomed camouflage. This lack of attention allows them to not only keep their jobs, but also provide meaningful educational lessons to future business leaders, doctors, military personnel, and educational researchers. The current state of accountability has put a premium on being left alone.”

Hochbein accurately describes a condition that most schools are very familiar with.  It’s the educational equivalent of “middle child syndrome.”  While challenging schools continue to receive the resources they need (no it’s not enough), and high performing schools excel regardless of their support, it is schools in the middle that have been left to fend for themselves.

For years we have seen an educational “whac-a-mole” approach to school funding.  As federal and state funds have withered, districts have been forced to shift funds to the schools with the most need.  No one would argue whether persistently low-achieving schools need support, but where does that leave schools mired in the middle?  It leaves them out.  It also places a heavy burden on passionate teachers and school leaders.

Fortunately, these schools are not waiting for the cavalry to come.  They are doing incredible work with limited resources.  Teachers in these schools see their jobs as a calling.  They put in long hours, foster meaningful relationships with students, and look for any and all available resources to support their teaching.  Yet, just like the middle child, they are often ignored and overlooked for their efforts.

Accountability in the Common Core era must include ways to acknowledge these unsung heroes and “average” schools.  Let’s celebrate the excellent teaching that happens every day in these schools.  Let’s stop ignoring the “middle child.”

See full Washington Post article below:

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