I ended up pursuing the VEX IQ series which is appropriate for middle school based on a couple of factors. First the design / reliability of the parts seem to be at the same level as LEGO. Most of the parts are plastic which makes it more affordable than any of their metal kits. That leads be to my second point. You get a big bang for your buck when it comes to the VEX IQ when compared to LEGO MIndstorms, Fishertechnik, or even the metal units from VEX. My third factor for choosing was a big one; I needed something that was user friendly for middle school. I have every last student that our small school has and the programming language needed to be simple enough so all my students could enjoy it. The recent addition of Modkit programming provides the simplicity that I was looking for and best of all it is free. I do believe that the LEGO Mindstorms software possibly would be easier to use but it does not transition well into an industry standard that our students would need in the future.
I have nothing against LEGO or Fishertechnik as they both offer really good robotics. I was actually leaning towards both of them prior to my research. Now off to the next battle of searching and applying for funding.
Well it came time to pull the trigger to purchase our robotics for our classroom, and to my surprise I purchased the EV3 core sets with expansion sets. So what was it that tipped the scales from VEX to EV3. There were a few factors that pushed me from VEX to EV3, first the build time of a VEX robot is typically much longer then that of an EV3. Secondly I was able to mess around with some EV3 units at the Oswego Technology Conference. They were much more durable then I predicted. One actually fell of a table and it didn't even phase it. Not a single piece came off. Finally I spoke with the Lego rep for at least two hours. He and a couple other tech teachers that were currently using the EV3 units provided me with so much information and ideas of what projects I could do with the kids. Talking to teachers that were using the units was probably the best information I could get. They advised me of what extra parts I would probably need, and the do's and don'ts as well. So there you have it, decision
If you have anything to add please comment below as I and others would love to hear opinions and reasoning behind other robotic platforms.