Middle schooling and academic rigour

Document Type

Journal Article


Common Ground Publishing Pty Ltd.


Faculty of Community Services, Education and Social Sciences


School of Education




Chadbourne, R. (2003). Middle Schooling and Academic Rigour. The International Journal of Learning, 10, 541-550. Available here


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 rigorous conception of higher order thinking and deep understanding; (b) supporters of middle schooling can call upon an 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 asking whether middle schooling does more to nurture these two conditions than does traditional schooling