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About The Forum

The National Forum is a nonprofit educators’ association dedicated to improving education and school-based supports for all young adolescents in the middle grades. Its alliance of educators, researchers, associations, and state departments of education operate the organization’s Schools to Watch recognition, continuous improvement, and model schools program.


Today, there are over 600 Schools to Watch in 17 states all focused on serving the social, emotional, and academic needs of each student in culturally relevant and inclusive ways. These exceptional schools continue to improve each year and serve as models and mentors for educators from other schools.

Advancing excellence in the middle grades

Our Mission

Our Mission

The mission of the National Forum is to unite key stakeholders in leveraging research, policy, leadership, community, and replicable practices in order to optimize the social, emotional, and academic growth of all middle-grades students.

Middle School Class

Our Vision

In order to prepare students to be lifelong learners ready for college, career, and citizenship, the National Forum seeks to make every middle-grades school academically excellent, responsive to the developmental needs and interests of young adolescents, and socially equitable.

Our History

In the mid-nineties, a group of K-12 and higher-ed educators gathered together to map out real-world guidance for middle-grades schools on ways to support the whole child during the young-adolescent stage of development. The middle school movement, with its focus on students’ social and emotional well-being, had started to lose steam in the national education conversation. Indeed, the group was concerned that the unique needs of middle-grades students were no longer being addressed in an organized way at the district, state, and national levels.

The Schools to Watch Rubric


The group decided to focus on producing an evidence-based framework that would provide schools with practical guidance on what elements should be present in a thriving middle-grades school. The resulting Schools to Watch rubric was finalized in 2002. 


Since then, thousands of schools across the country have used the rubric to measure their school’s level of effectiveness in the areas of social equity, developmental responsiveness, academic excellence, and innovative systems. 


The National Forum & the Schools to Watch Program


In 1997, the group formed the nonprofit National Forum. In 1999, the organization debuted its Schools to Watch program, which leveraged the Schools to Watch rubric to identify exceptional middle-grades schools that serve all students well and are on a trajectory toward excellence. 


The program’s usefulness and ability to motivate staff to continue to grow appealed to schools, and the number of states and participating schools grew steadily. While each state has its own process for identifying and celebrating schools, all states align when it comes to the core Schools to Watch requirements. 


Today, there are over 600 Schools to Watch in 17 states, with more being added each year. The National Schools to Watch Conference, held in the Washington, DC metro area, is attended by over 750 Schools to Watch educators annually Schools to Watch is now a thriving national network. 

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