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The Learning Conference 2003

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Presentation Details


Middle Schooling and Academic Rigour

Rod Chadbourne.

Over the past 15 years in Australia and the USA, an increasing number of separate middle schools for young adolescents have been established, either as new middle schools or as the result of restructured traditional schools. One of the most damaging criticisms of this development is the claim that middle schooling undermines academic rigour. This paper examines the validity of that claim. It does so by identifying what the critics means by academic rigour, analysing the types and status of the evidence they cite, and constructing a middle schooling response. With respect to the latter, the paper argues that: (a) middle schooling embraces a more rigorous conception of higher order thinking and deep understanding that that held by the critics; (b) supporters of middle schooling can call upon a powerful array of hard data and circumstantial evidence to show that middle schooling, under certain conditions, has the capacity to raise, rather than lower, academic rigour; (c) two of these conditions are those identified by Newmann and Associates, namely, a sustained focus on intellectual quality and professional community among teachers in schools. The paper concludes by considering whether the cultural and structural features of middle schooling do more to nurture these two conditions than is the case with traditional schooling.


Rod Chadbourne  (Australia)
Associate Professor in Education
School of Education
Edith Cowan University

Rod Chadbourne joined the academic staff at Edith Cowan University in 1973. Prior to that he taught English in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and England. He completed his MA at the University of London Institute of Education in 1967. His current research interests focus on middle schooling, teacher evaluation and career paths in teaching. In addition to teaching preservice courses, Rod also supervises the research of postgraduate students at Edith Cowan University.

  • Middle schooling
  • Higher order thinking
  • Academic rigour
  • Young adolescents

(30 min Conference Paper, English)