Friday, September 25, 2009

Pass or Fail Jorge? A Teacher’s Dilemma

Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice

September 22, 2009
Pass or Fail Jorge? A Teacher’s Dilemma

...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.

But such research findings 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.

Is there no other way out of this dilemma?

Some schools have gotten around this bind facing Jorge’s teacher by grouping children by age rather than grade. Instead of kindergarten, first and second grades, a primary unit of five-to-eight year olds gives students time to catch up on their academic and social skills over a three-year period rather than forcing a yearly promotion decision. Such faculties know what every decent gardener knows: all daisies don’t grow at the same rate. Some need more time and care to flourish.

Still students move from elementary to middle school and then on to high school. What to do with students still below district academic standards? Some school districts help students not yet ready for the next level of schooling. Other districts ungrade upper-level units. They believe that it is not only intelligence but also time and student effort that count.

But Jorge is in a district that doesn’t have such ungraded units and continues to cut back on services. His teacher still faces the dilemma. She knows in her heart that Jorge has fine personal qualities that might shrivel were he to repeat the grade. Yet the boy is far behind academically. With a shrug of helplessness, the teacher puts a check in the column marked “retain” next to Jorge’s name.

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