A Rock and a Hard Place
Larry Cuban takes on the issue of social promotion in his most recent blog posting. One big lesson I draw from his piece: Moral clarity often gives way to moral quandaries as you get closer to the classroom.
Cuban tells the story of Jorge, a (fictional?) fourth grader who struggles in school despite his best efforts. He is eager to please, but he has fallen far behind his peers and is not prepared for the academic challenges of fifth grade.
Should the teacher fail him? Should the school make him repeat fourth grade? The answer seems like a no-brainer. Of course! It would be a farce to send him to the next grade before he's ready. Do five minutes of internet research on social promotion, and you'll discover that it's "a scam," "heinous," "unethical"--exhibit A in the case against do-nothing teachers and administrators.
But what happens to Jorge if he repeats fourth grade? Jorge's teacher knows that the alternative to social promotion is hardly comforting. As Cuban writes:
Holding back children in the early grades often leads to increased absenteeism, troublesome behavior in later grades, and eventually dropping out. If the purpose of retention-in-grade is to help students improve academically, researchers have found few such benefits.
So what to do with Jorge? Some schools and districts have found a third way. They group students by age rather than grade, giving students "time to catch up on their academic and social skills over a three-year period rather than forcing a yearly promotion decision." Or they help students work at their own pace toward clearly demonstrated levels of mastery. Or they give struggling students extra time and structured support to keep up with their peers.
In each case, these schools and districts create formal structures to support struggling students. They create the conditions for success rather than relying solely on moral pronouncements.
Cuban has little patience for quick fix superintendents who take a less nuanced view of social promotion issues:
But research findings [on social promotion] mean little to the new sprinter-like superintendent and her school board: social promotion, they say, will produce unskilled graduates. Schools must separate achievers from non-achievers. Flunk Jorge.
It's often tempting to keep things simple. But those who are comfortable with complexity will utlimately win the day.
Click here to browse dozens of Public School Insights interviews with extraordinary education advocates, including:
- 2013 Digital Principal Ryan Imbriale
- Best Selling Author Dan Ariely
- Family Engagement Expert Dr. Maria C. Paredes
The views expressed in this website's interviews do not necessarily represent those of the Learning First Alliance or its members.
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