Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Social Promotion lets Students Graduate Without Learning

Problem: Many students at each grade level are passed even if they have not learned the material for that grade.

This is the critical problem we must solve. The fact that high-school graduates must take remedial course in college, and that employers complain that job applicants are drop-outs and illiterates, is a direct result of this promotion policy. Year after year many students move through school without learning what they should.

This problem seems to be known as ‘Social Promotion,‘ and in 1999 President Clinton announced that it was time to end the practice of promoting students to the next grade regardless of their academic progress. There is a very interesting article at http://www.educationnext.org/20051/49.html describing how the Chicago Public Schools worked on this problem, starting in about 1995. And the US Department of Education provides a great deal of useful help at http://www.ed.gov/pubs/socialpromotion/index.html

In implementing this program Chicago found that, in the beginning, there was some concern about the feasibility of this change. But in the end, parents, students, teachers, principals, and school administrators largely agreed it was a success. One common point made was that the new policy caused students to be better motivated, and their parents to be more involved in their children‘s education. Putting it another way, ‘Social Promotion’ discourages students from working hard -- they’ll get promoted whether they work or not -- and for the same reason gives parents no reason to become involved.

To solve the promotion problem, we must:

* Set minimum test-score standards for reading and writing in all grades.
* Insure that children who are having trouble during the school year get special attention, either in the class, or in tutoring sessions after class.
* Require that students who fail to meet the standards at year-end, despite the extra attention, go to summer school.
* Require that students who fail after the summer school repeat the grade the next year.

A potential problem: Parents or students may try to refuse the summer help, and even if the help is accepted and the student fails the summer work, the parent may insist his child be promoted. It is essential that such actions be rejected.

At any rate, as a mid-school teacher pointed out, sixth, seventh and eighth-grade students enter mid-school with an average reading and math level of third grade. Another mid-school teacher wrote “A student can fail all classes and be promoted in school”. (To read these comments, click HERE ) So for the above solution to be practical, we must begin by applying it only to (say) the first and second grades. Then each year we can apply it to a higher grade.

The solution to the promotion problem will take determination on the part of the School Superintendent and the School Board. Some parents may demand that their children be promoted. Some teachers may insist that a child who is held back will be somehow harmed. These objections cannot be accepted if we are to have literate children.

This solution will impose new costs, because we need tutors to help our slower learners, (possibly) extra training for teachers to improve their skills, and summer courses so kids can try to learn the material they failed to learn.

Action hoped-for from the reader.

We’d be delighted to hear from anyone who has comments on the Social Promotion problem. To comment, just click the underlined word ‘comments’ at the bottom of this page (or any of the other pages), and tell us what you think. We’d be glad to hear from anyone. You might like to tell us:

1. Why you think schools don’t need improving.
2. Why we’re wrong about the problems discussed above, and why (or what additional problems exist that we‘ve ignored or overlooked).
3. What you think should be done to improve schools.

(Incidentally, your comment or remark or criticism can be anonymous.)

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