Schools to Watch® is a national initiative launched in 1999 by the National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform. The National Forum is an alliance of more than 60 educators, researchers, and officers of national associations and foundations dedicated to improving schools for young adolescents across the country. (Connect with them on Facebook and Twitter.)
Through the Schools to Watch® initiative, the National Forum identifies schools across the United States that are well on their way to meeting the Forum’s criteria for high performance. There are three things true of high-performing middle-grades schools:
- They are academically excellent—these schools challenge all students to use their minds well.
- They are developmentally responsive—these schools are sensitive to the unique developmental challenges of early adolescence.
- They are socially equitable—these schools are democratic and fair, providing every student with high-quality teachers, resources, and supports.
To achieve this level of performance, high-performing schools establish norms, structures, and organizational arrangements to support and sustain their trajectory toward excellence. They have a sense of purpose that drives every facet of practice and decision-making.
As part of its continuing effort to identify and learn from high-performing middle schools, the National Forum, in collaboration with
- Association for Middle Level Education (AMLE), formerly NMSA,
- National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP),
- National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), and
- Learning Forward (formerly National Staff Development Council)
launched its Schools to Watch® State Program in 2004. Through this program, the Forum has trained teams of education leaders to implement Schools to Watch® programs in their states.
The Schools to Watch® program is a state-level model of the nationally recognized Schools to Watch® program created by the National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform.
Current STW states include: Arkansas, California, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, and Virginia.
In the mid-1990s, the National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Grades Reform translated its beliefs about the characteristics of a high-performing middle-grades school into a set of evaluation criteria.
The purpose of the criteria was to provide guidance to classroom teachers, administrators, parents, and community members as they evaluate school programs to determine the need for further school improvement.
Each section is complementary to, and interdependent with, the others. Though each section of the criteria is presented separately, a high-performing middle-grades school would find it difficult to succeed without significant success in each of the four areas.
- Academic Excellence
- Developmental Responsiveness
- Social Equity
- Organizational Structures and Processes
Using the Criteria
The Schools to Watch® criteria and the material on this site can be used for school assessment and staff development. We encourage you and your colleagues to use the STW Rubric. As a result of data collected through the Investing in Innovation Grant the STW Ruberic has been shown to be a useful tool for school improvement.
Schools need to have been in existence as a middle grades school for at least 3 years.
Testing data for the school should reflect an upward trajectory of growth over the last 3 years.
Only public and/or publicly funded charter schools may apply to become a STW.
STW schools serve young adolescents 10-15 years old in schools that meet the STW criteria. Each state makes the determination as to which schools in the state will be eligible.
Schools that actively recruit students and/or limit student eligibility to attend are not eligible to apply as a STW.
States cannot charge schools a fee to apply to become a STW.
Obligations and Responsibilities
Part of the benefit of the unique Schools To Watch designation is the opportunity to connect with other first-rate middle schools principals and leaders in Michigan — and nationwide. A variety of statewide and countrywide meetings and conferences are planned each year. Leaders should plan on:
- Planning a celebration to receive your STW banner. State STW representatives will be invited.
- Submitting all materials to the National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades by the deadline dates.
- Submitting a proposal to present at the annual Schools To Watch Conference in Washington D.C.
- Attending the National Schools To Watch Conference in Washington D.C. in June of the year you are designated and/or re-designated.
- Participating in the Middle-grades STW movement at the National and State levels.
- Recognition at the current year's MAMSE conference.
- Submitting a proposal to present at the MAMSE conference the year after you are designated.
- Participating in a site visit to an applying school during the 3 years you are a STW or re-designated STW.
- Hosting visitors at your school.
- Mentoring schools in using the STW rubric as a School Improvement tool.
Designated schools are encouraged to mentor and share their success with neighboring schools and to help identify and cultivate new applicants for the Schools To Watch program.
Schools are encouraged to promote Michigan Schools To Watch — and the National Forum — in their local media outlets, communities, social media and on school websites. An extensive media kit will be available to every school (including web graphics, avatars, high resolution logos, press-ready photos, ideas for promotion, PDFs of flyers and brochures and more) which will make it easier for schools to promote Schools To Watch.
Schools To Watch schools should be institutional members of the AMLE state affiliate.