Catherine, congrats on being brave! That's unfortunately IS the middle school mentality - to do many projects (and it IS mandated from above). I was lucky - I taught MS, but I taught Regents class, so I did not follow "workshop model" and didn't do projects.A couple of things.
Now in HS I do not assign any projects and even in labs (if I can and have enough supplies)I try to get everyone to work individually.
But even in HS I see other teachers assign projects (even in math - oh, horror!). That tells me - either the grades need to be boosted, or the teacher is done teaching (like now, by the end of the year)
First, in my student's district, it's possible projects are being used to lower grades, not raise them. That is certainly what has been happening to my student.
Second, no bravery involved! From a personal point of view, the meeting was amazing for the complete and total lack of negative emotion I felt. I felt calm, I felt friendly, I felt unfazed. Unfazed is an excellent state of mind to be in, let me tell you.
I wish I could bottle the mood because it seems to be pretty effective. A person who is calm, friendly, and unfazed --- and who believes, in a calm, friendly, and unfazed kind of way, that projects have no educational value for the student on whose behalf she is advocating --- where can school personnel go with that?
I must say ... it is shockingly empowering to be teaching freshman English at the college level. I can simply observe that I do not assign projects in my classes, and there's an end to it. I don't have to argue the merits. I'm the person these students are seeing next, after they leave K-12.
And, since I'm married to a professor, I can further observe that my husband does not assign projects, either. New York state's new focus is "college and career readiness" (I don't know how 'career readiness' is defined); at some level everyone in the room knows they're supposed to be getting kids ready for college, not "problem solving" or the 21st century or problem solving in the 21st century. And, of course, college readiness is what they want for their own kids if they are parents.
When I told my friend R. about the meeting, she said, "You are battle hardened."
Third: Thank God for Regents exams. The school personnel in the meeting were clear that when teachers have to prepare students to pass Regents, the time available for projects is limited.
Projects do not help students pass exams, it seems.