Joan Lipsitz

National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform
Purpose Prize Fellow 2006

Accelerating middle school reform by benchmarking high performing schools

Following a career dedicated to improving middle level education, Joan Lipsitz helped form the National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform–a group of diverse middle grades stakeholders that developed a common voice for speaking about the educational needs of young adolescents. As a part of that work, she helped develop Schools to Watch, a powerful school reform program aimed at improving middle grades education by identifying specific criteria that define high-performing middle schools, and then selecting schools that meet the criteria to serve as national models. The criteria include a rigorous curriculum for all students; high academic standards; varied instructional approaches to meet all student learning styles; sensitivity to the unique developmental challenges of early adolescence; a qualified, diverse teaching force; and a socially equitable approach to education. Almost 100 schools in 14 states have been identified, and the program continues to add new states and new schools each year. Staff from hundreds of schools have visited the Schools to Watch, and many more have learned through tools and online tours developed by the Forum and the schools themselves. In addition, major education organizations that work with young adolescents and state departments of education have begun to use the Schools to Watch language and criteria in their own programs and publications, thus magnifying the impact of the Forum’s work.