Thursday, July 14, 2005

Social Promotion in Public Education

We respectfully ask that you read the entire post before commenting the first time, but for your convenience we have put a jump to the comments section right here, so that you can easily find them.

As I was reading this post at shadesofgray (hat tip GM Roper), I was reminded of one of the many problems with the public education system in the US.

That problem is social promotion, the practice of advancing students to the next grade even though they are academically unprepared for such a move. One of the main arguments in favor of this plan is that a child could be "emotionally scarred" by being left behind as his friends move forward. Of course there in never any mention of the "emotional scaring" likely to be experienced by a student in high school who is still unable to read, let alone the more tangible effects of lacking the skills to be a productive member of society.

Back in the late 90's early 00's, there was a swing of the pendulum away from this practice towards retention, i.e. failing a student (or the more PC term, holding back). Naturally, there was a big uproar by the supporters of social promotion. There was a flurry of studies stating that retention didn't work and was "emotional scaring" for children.

Groups like the National Association of School Psychologists took positions against retention. The old stand-by was of course pulled out: "retention unfairly targets poor minorities.

Interestingly enough, most of these studies (at least the ones I have seen) also clearly stated (usually in passing) that social promotion does not work either. This didn't stop the screeds against retention though. I believe this is because the social promotion movement is merely part of the much larger movement in our country to completely remove all forms of personal responsibility from those currently burdening under its heavy yoke.

It has been a goal of those on the left to systematically remove the entire concept of personal responsibility from the sphere of existence and replace it instead with victimology. Nothing is your fault and any failures you have must be caused by some unjust system (usually Capitalism) or action working to hold you down. The benefits of accomplishing such a feat would, of course, be a public more malleable to ideas of increased government control.

Those that have followed my blogs for some time will be aware of the fact that I homeschool my 5 year old daughter. Due to the demands of my profession and the fact I am a single father, in a few months, when the new school year starts, I will probably have to enroll her in a regular school, though it will be a private school rather than public (at least assuming I am able to get her in one without the usual 1 year lead time required).

I attended both public and private schools growing up and I tell you, the thought of having to send her to a public school scares the hell out of me. So much so, that I may be forced to hire her a full time Nanny/Governess instead so that she can travel with me instead of being "institutionalized" at her Grandparents.

The public school system in this country has become a national disaster and regardless of the ever-increasing billions being flushed away, it is getting worse. Government has proven itself to be completely inept in the field of educating our youth to become productive individuals with the necessary critical thinking skills necessary to succeed. Logic has been replaced by calls to emotion. Perhaps this is fine if a parent wishes to indoctrinate their children into the nebulous of groupthink that now casts its shadow over this country, but I want something a little better for my daughter.

Thanks to the bastardized mixture of wide scale leftism and the worst ideas of conservatism that has taken grasp in the schools (at all levels), kids are forced to wade through their school years with an almost complete lack of clear direction. Of course, what else can be expected when the schools are run by those with no direction and no good ideas themselves. If they think you can just sweep the kid under the rug and promote them regardless of whether they are grade level competent, they will never see my daughter and hopefully never see your children either.
to ideas of increased government control.

Liberty Dog - One Billion Red Chinese and a Dog Named Liberty

Yes, the red ink pens to give grades might leave a negative mark on their psych. LOL! I'm definitley with you on this. Deep down it resembles socialism. My son came home from kindergarden with a medal. I was proud! I asked how he won it. He won it throwing some little bean bags into something. Then he told me that every kid won, and every kid got a medal. What is this saying? No matter how you perform you get equal distribution of the reward. Ridiculous. Whatever happened to fostering competion...the capitalist way? Our schools definitely need to go back to the basics of actually educating. If someone isn't trying yet still does that prepare them for society? It doesn't. Another reason so many are going to homeschooling

Jay - Stop the ACLU

I worked in a large city school in New Mexico and during that time, worked with the school system’s “throw-aways”—you know the ones, the behaviorals-- the ones that NO OTHER TEACHER wanted in his/her classroom. When I took the job working with ED/BD, it was by CHOICE. I believe that it is in these students a teacher will make the greatest difference and indeed test the very edges of their abilities as both educators and as humanity. In my tenure of working with these students, not a SINGLE ONE OF THEM was promoted based upon social norms. They were promoted based on having satisfactorily completed the benchmarks that were necessary for the grade level. The area of the city where I worked was the “barrio”, the south-side of the tracks, the lower income persons of a very wealthy city. Contrary to what many believe, what I saw in the lower-income section of town was the PRESS FORWARD mentality of a great many of the parents and students, in the effort to ensure that the students would *not * remain in the same life that their parents struggled through. There was a great deal of work with the Character Counts program in our district and I saw wonderful things happen through it, along with the DARE program. These would be those very people that some would say are the “lefties” the ones that do not want to take responsibility for themselves, that live off of social systems and blame the larger world. This is NOT what I saw at work there, not at all.

In moving away from the inner-city I have seen a greater lack of ambition on the part of some that many would consider to be “well to do” children. Many times, those children whom so much is given to hand over fist, are unappreciative of the hard work that is involved on their behalf to HAVE those luxuries. Many times I have seen the apathy in them prevailing greater then in the disadvantaged. Many times these children are sponsored by parents into sports, activities and groups that cost high dollars and many times has little to do with their desire to be involved at all and is more a vicarious living of the parents through the children. It all really does balance out, when you look at it with a critical eye. It is not a right-left issue and it crosses all political and socio-economic lines. As an Educator, I did not see what I would consider to be quantifiable evidence of a large volume of students being passed on basis of their age, rather than by ability. I saw a larger emphasis being placed on the basics in the elementary schools and I believe that educators are doing their very best in most instances to find and to help those that are not meeting the benchmarks of their grade. There have been numerous programs established to ‘zone in’ on a school district’s weak areas and if there are areas that are deficient, then it is the job of the Administration to find creative, exciting and innovative ways of challenging that deficit and bringing it forward, allowing ALL students to excel in all areas. Of course in order to do that we must stop paying teachers the paltry sums that we do, reduce their classroom sizes and provide more materials for the educational experience. Many of the problems that students face in the classroom today stem from the lack of resources, overcrowded classrooms and behavioral issues, all of which are addressable things.

The real problem with education is not “pass/fail” but is a matter of WHAT are we setting as the benchmarks for passing and failing? Why do we expect so little? Why do we no longer foster giftedness and strengths and use these in creative ways to overcome the difficulties in weaker areas? Why do we no longer promote apprenticeship and self-sustaining mechanisms that would benefit ‘at risk kids’ in our world today? Most importantly is the question also of: What involvement do parents take in the education of their children? Do we read to them every day? Do we have them read to us? Do we check over homework for accuracy? Do we involve our children in discussions of current affairs and foster public speaking abilities? Etc… etc… This is where the Home-schooling is growing in its popularity and why the trend is to excellence in home schooled children. More and more colleges are stating their OVERWHELMING WELCOME to home-school students because of their drive and ambition and self-starter mentalities.

As a home-schooling parent, I relish the return of the educational season in August. I have two children that will continue to be home educated this year. My eldest child will have completed the requirements for graduation, nearly two years in advance and will enter college/tech school far ahead of his peers. My youngest, will enter not as a High School Freshman but as a Freshman/Sophomore because in a home-school environment you can go with great strides in their strong subjects. In weaker areas, I do not FAIL my children. Failing is NOT AN OPTION. We work it as long as it takes to master it, no matter how long that may be. We are not re-learning what they have learned in previous years nor are hours lost to the school bells, lunch bells and other Pavlovian systems that are pit and parcel with the Public Educational System. My children will learn Latin, where it is no longer taught. They will learn World Empire Histories. They will learn advanced algebra and mathematics of society and business – something that public school no longer teaches. They read classic literatures along side of the contemporary works. They apprentice in trades and work, they volunteer and myriad other things that the System, as it is set up at this time, cannot and will not do.

If we would consider Education, I wholeheartedly support parents and others to look not to the Pass/Fail conundrum but to look to what is lurking beneath the surface of the Educational System: It matters not if you pass or fail if there is no heart or value placed in what you are “diplomaed” in at the end.

Nariel - Ancient Eyes for Current Times

First, I want to welcome Liberty Dog back to the blogosphere; I hope his trip went well. Second, I want to say that for years I've felt that the American education system is a very volatile place for a child. It is hard for a student to be passed when he/she shouldn't be, pushed ahead a grade or two even if he/she is academically prepared and equally damaging for him/her to be held behind given the emphasis placed on rushed progress in our system. For these reasons, I am personally in favor of home education and/or sending kids to private schools when possible. With that in mind, let's attack this issue of social promotion, shall we?

Liberty Dog is absolutely correct that sending a kid to the next grade level simply to prevent his/her scarring is wrong. I can tell you from personal experience that it is even more harmful to send a kid ahead when they are not ready than to keep them back. In 5th Grade, I had a friend who while not stupid, was a little slow to grasp some things we'll just say. I took it up as a personal project to try and help him out. Over a period of about 6 weeks, I tutored my friend in math and history and other things. In the end, he was still behind so his parents and the teacher decided to bump him back to 4th Grade. I can tell you that he was far more stressed by a feeling of embarrassment in the 5th Grade class than he was at being a 5th Grader bumped back to 4th. He thrived in class after that and the last I knew, was making A's and B's. For the same reason you do not send an untrained recruit to the front in Iraq, you do not send an unprepared student to the next grade level.

Now then, Liberty Dog reported that the National Association of School Psychologists had decided that retention was (is) bad. I personally never had a lot of faith in these folks. These were the people who decided, after all, that it was (is) appropriate to punish all kids involved in schoolyard fights, even those who are innocently attacked, for the simple reason that it is a good lesson to teach them that being involved in violence is wrong. The reason I point this out is because it is representative of our education system at large. The American education system, while having pumped out good work in the past, has become a box factory, trying to get untrained minds in and out as fast as possible. It is a factory focusing more on quantity than quality, which is the reason I no longer support it to the degree I once did. If I had kids, I would rather teach them myself or send them to a private institution than leave them to their own devices in the factory school system that is our public education program. Is this not a growing sentiment?

Ok, LD places the blame for this problem firmly on the Left. That is, in layman's terms, a pile of rubbish. There have been, I would like to point out, Republicans in control of our government for over a decade. The problem that he is mentioning has grown far worse under their watch. Besides that fact, Republicans have been present in government since the inception of public education and therefore are at least a part of the problem, as much as anyone. The truth is my friends that this problem is not a Left or Right issue. This problem we face is a complex problem born of multi-faceted contexts that have grown up because of our social dynamics. While that is the problem, however, we are the ones who must resolve it. We can either rework the public education system, by which the Left wants to pump more money into (a bad idea until the problem is fixed) and the Right wants to allow companies to have some control of public education (another bad idea as companies focus on their agenda rather than on truly prosperous education.) The problem is complex and so must be the answer.

In closing, I would like to mention that while our public schools are suffering, our universities are in great shape. We have, I believe, the best universities in the world. That is one reason why so many from overseas want to come to America for their college education. They believe rightly that we will train them the best. The problem is our lower education system, which is leaving too many behind. That is the main reason why our universities accept such high rates of foreign students compared to domestic ones I think. Liberty Dog is right that there is a problem in our lower education system. While I don't agree with all of his views on the matter, it will take all of us to fix it. The longer nothing is done, the longer our students will fall through the cracks. Should we point blame or work to fix it?

Joseph - The New Oklahoma Democrat

I don't have a whole lot to add here, this is a great post. Liberty Dog, you covered, I think, what allot of people are feeling nowadays. Our schools have been reduced to bastions of mediocrity, all in the name of "Feeling Good". I think it speak to the core of what is wrong with this country now. We have muddled ourselves down so much and been beaten by the acceptance stick so hard, that the opposite effect than intended has occurred. Rather than making our children more prepared to meet the world, in the name of protecting their feelings we have made them rather ill prepared. It is starting to show in our daily lives. In the military, we are having to make our training schools longer in order to teach our new recruits some of the basics they missed in High School, additionally, in order to fill the seats, we have had to lower standards repeatedly. Costing society more money just to have a ready force worth keeping, and I am sure there are parallels in the business world as well.

The answer here I think is to get involved in your child's education and stay involved. I have been told over and over that I am my child's greatest advocate, and I think that is true. Parents have to demand better, and not allow passing for the sake of passing, it does not do anyone a service.

Zaphriel - Birth of a Neocon
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