Middle School

Why Middle School Matters

A lot happens for students in the middle school years, both personally and academically. For example, for the first time they are taught by multiple teachers on separate subjects, receive more homework, have higher expectations for students to self-manage, there are tangible consequences for getting off track, and much more. It is uniquely challenging for teachers and principals to help students successfully navigate their social-emotional and academic growth. Despite extensive research to this effect, public and private attention to these pivotal years tends to trail behind that given to elementary and high school efforts.

The George W. Bush Institute began the Middle School Matters (MSM) initiative in 2010 with the goal of increasing the number of students who are prepared for high school and post-secondary success. The initiative accomplishes this by drawing upon evidence-based research to develop practical tools and engaging support opportunities for middle grade campuses, allowing research-based practices to be brought to life in classrooms across the nation. The heart of the initiative is the deliberate connection between research and the instructional practice of educators. More specifically, Middle School Matters turned high-quality research into actionable strategies for districts, schools, and teachers to use to improve reading, writing, and math instruction – and to improve use of data systems to identify students who are at-risk of dropping out.


The High Stakes of Middle School


Middle school is a critical time for students to get on track for success. A student’s risk of dropping out of high school is identifiable as early as sixth grade. Being off-track, on just one key indicator, signals that the likelihood of a sixth grader graduating high school on time is between 15-20 percent.


Researchers and educators collaborated to create a substantial set of research-based instructional practices, performance management strategies, and student supports that middle schools should implement to increase the number of students prepared for success in high school and beyond.


Middle school educators and school leaders can use the Middle School Matters Field Guide and related resources to inform their implementation of research-based practices that contribute to student success.

Middle School Matters Field Guide

The Middle School Matters Field Guide compiles the educational principles, practices, and strategies that rigorous research indicates are essential to success in the middle grades. Designed for educators and school leaders, the Field Guide explains and demonstrates how specific research-based recommendations can be effectively implemented in classrooms and schools.

The Field Guide focuses on three key dimensions of middle school success: research-based instruction, performance management and informed decision-making, and student supports that enhance learning.

For more information click below to go to the Field Guide.

Research-Based Instruction

Reading and Reading Intervention: In middle school, reading is involved in all subject areas. Learn about instructional principles and practices that should be implemented school-wide to improve reading outcomes.

Writing and Writing Intervention: Middle school students must develop the skills, techniques, and knowledge to write effectively in all subject areas. Learn the instructional principles and practices that enable students to improve as writers.

Mathematics and Mathematics Intervention: The mathematical skills that students develop in middle school are critical to their later success in high school and beyond. Learn about the instructional principles and practices that lead to improved math outcomes.

Cognitive Science and Advanced Reasoning: Cognitive and reasoning principles can be used to promote learning across all content areas in middle school. Learn about the principles and related practices that teachers can implement to support instruction and improve student outcomes.

Performance Management

Performance Management: Informed decision-making and performance management facilitate continuous improvement efforts. Learn about key principles and practices that contribute to effective performance management in the middle grades.

Student Supports that Enhance Learning

Dropout Prevention: Ensuring that students are engaged and reducing their dropout risk are essential to their later success. Learn about the five principles and related practices that middle school educators should implement as part of a dropout prevention strategy.

School Climate, Culture, and Partnerships: School climate can have a profound impact on student outcomes. Learn about the principles and practices that middle grades teachers and school leaders that can positively affect school climate and learning culture.

Student Behavior and Motivation: Student behavior and motivation are critical to positive student outcomes. Learn about the principles and practices that support student behavior and increase motivation in the middle grades.

Extended Learning Time: Learning that takes place outside of school can be powerful opportunities for middle schools to support improved student outcomes. Learn about the programmatic principles that contribute to effective out-of-school time learning.

Additional Resources

  • Resources for Teachers

    Access toolkits for teachers with research-based instructional practices and strategies in reading, writing, math, and cognitive science/advanced reasoning.

    Learn More

  • Resources for School Leaders

    Access materials and tools designed to help school leaders implement research-based practices in their schools. Tools include checklists, action planning templates, and self-assessments.

    Learn More

  • Lessons Learned Report

    This report continues the Bush Institute’s commitment to advancing educational outcomes broadly by sharing learnings to date about creating and implementing Middle School Matters.

    Learn More

For more information click below to go to greatmiddleschools.org.