As the school year winds to an underwhelming end, I look back at the year with kids in school. Our third of 8 is graduating from High School in a week or two, 2 more next year, one in 9th, one in 7th, and one in 5th, and so I have a little perspective from which to work.
Overall, my question is this: Is there (still) a problem with "social promotion" in our schools? For those unfamiliar with the term, it is the practice of moving children into and out of grades, or classes, in school based on age only, and not performance, or a level of achievement having been met.
In the middle to late 90's, this concept was more of a newsmaker than it is now. So is it still a problem, or have we moved on to more expedient political footballs?
In 1999, President Clinton spoke about social promotion in his State of the Union address, to sustained applause, noting that fourth graders should not move on in school unless they could read independently and well, and should not enter high school without a solid foundation in math skills. He called for a decrease in Federal funding to school districts who insist on continuing the practice of social promotion.
Clinton's proposed program called for 2 things, operating in tandem: an end to social promotion, and an increase in funding to support early detection and remediation of at-risk students with learning deficiencies. He also calls for "appropriate use of tests and other indicators of academic performance in determining whether students should be promoted." The key questions are whether testing is used appropriately in such decisions and whether early identification and remediation of learning problems can take place successfully.
My experience is this, from an anecdotal perspective: I have found that, especially in junior high, an average or even below-average kid (any and all kids actually), can earn so much credit in bonus work, bonus points, extra curricular contributions, bonus questions, etc, that grades are easily skewed to the point that they don't really reflect the level of proficiency of a given student. I've had kids come home from school with a grade on a test that is above 100%. Talk about "new math!!!"
This, coupled with a social promotion mindset, can lead to kids heading into and out of high school without having an appropriate baseline minimum education. President Clinton told a "summit" meeting of political and business leaders in October of 1999, "that students who are held back because they fail to vault newly raised bars should be treated with tough love, "look dead in the eye some child who has been held back, and say, "This doesn't mean there's something wrong with you, but we'll be hurting you worse if we tell you you're learning something when you're not."
And lest you think this is what all good Democrats should say, consider:
[From 1998] Governor Bush of Texas has proposed that "3rd graders who do not pass the reading portion of the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills would be required to receive help before moving to regular classrooms in the 4th grade. The same would hold true for 5th graders who failed to pass reading and math exams and 8th graders who did not pass tests in reading, math, and writing. The state would provide funding for locally developed intervention programs."
So, it's now 7 years or so since that time. Has anything changed? I don't think so. It's easy for us to wave the funding flag here. Real easy. Holding kids back is expensive. Some argue that the expense and emotional damage incurred by a hold-back does not necessarily remedy the original problem: an underperforming student. In addition to the funding flag, there are other flags being trotted out too, most notably the race flag, culture flag, and the language flag.
All of these are issues that impact the effectiveness of teachers in our schools. And in fact, I would submit that test-based promotion is/would be harder to regulate and implement now than it would have been then, given these other flags that now play into the picture in a more prominent way.
Bottom line for me: With the atmosphere what it is, and funding what it is, and, from a local perspective, the state of our local school districts, it will be very hard to do anything besides promote students based on age-only, and we will continue to churn out high school grads who cannot read, write, or multiply. This has the effect of dumbing down our society over a long term. I come in contact with MANY people who couldn't write their way out of a rain-soaked paper bag. (One of my MAJOR pet peeves.) We continue to shrink the school year at the behest of the teachers associations, while simply allowing our kids to float through, paying good teachers poorly (pun intended), having dumbed our education system down to the lowest common denominators in the effort to "include" everybody. That's what daycares are for.
In the category of "don't get me started", why are there so many school districts here on the Wasatch Front? Granite school district purchased the MAMMOTH albatross otherwise known as the failed FHP HMO building, which has gone through several different entities. How much money would be saved for other funding issues (like per-student dollars) if the school districts around here were combined under one roof, one administration, one set of staff, etc., in that building? There is lots of administrative overhead that could be saved by combining school districts. Just my $0.02