Transition Watch

Have you ever come across a new word and then suddenly seemed to hear it and read it everywhere? The past six months or so, the word that keeps popping up is “transitions.” As in the transition from pre-school to kindergarten (it turns out that there are “standards” for what good preschools are supposed to do to help get kids ready for kindergarten), the transition from middle school to high school, and the transition from high school to college.

The other day I came across the 2004-2005 MetLife Survey of the American Teacher, which focuses on “Transitions and the Role of Supportive Relationships.” The survey included students and 20% of them said that when they entered their current middle school or high school no one helped them find their locker, the bathrooms, or the gym. A quarter said no one pointed them to the cafeteria. And 31% said no one gave them information or guidance about what classes to take! Is it any surprise that many kids aren’t engaged in school and its mission? Any surprise students don’t know what classes they need to take to get prepared for college? Can you imagine starting a new job and not having anyone tell you where to get a cup of coffee or anything about the core mission of the company? The same survey finds that nine in 10 teachers and principals place a high value on strong personal connections with students. There’s lots more good stuff in this survey.

The transition from middle school to high school is getting particular attention, it seems. The Pritchard Committee for Academic Excellence in Kentucky recognized the need to focus on kids’ experiences in ninth grade in its recent fine set of recommendations for improving high schools. The recent evaluation of the Talent Development High School Model by MDRC also highlighted the importance of the ninth grade year.

I’ll keep an eye out for more mentions of “transitions” as I guest-blog this week.

–Richard Lee Colvin, Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media, Teachers College, Columbia University

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