Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Social Promotion? Are you kidding me?!

Social Promotion. You know what it is. It's when you take a kid who's like 15 in the 7th grade and move them into the eighth grade regardless of whether or not they actually do the work of a 7th grader. Call me naive but when I was in elementary school (late 80s) the only kind of social promotion we enjoyed was when a geek went through puberty and was 'socially promoted' to hunk or hot girl status. What's up with a system that will move you to the next grade even though you're unable to read or write? What is the value of any diploma you receive? More importantly, what message are we sending to students who get promoted year after year without learning a thing? At a budget hearing yesterday, Rep. Paul Crowley, D-Newport, berated the RI Education Commissioner, Peter McWalters, about this very point. He said "When is the state going to call the question that we can no longer keep advancing these kids?" McWalters reply, according to the journal:

But McWalters said there is no evidence that shows that holding students back improves their performance. On the contrary, research shows that a child who is held back more than once is more likely to drop out of school.He said that the state now requires a personal literacy plan for every child who is seriously behind grade level. That child will typically receive double periods of reading and math to help him catch up with his peers.[Bold mine]
Gee, I wonder why someone held back is more likely to drop out? Could it be that they aren't learning anything in school and have better things to do!?!?!!?!? Ok, now that I've gotten that out. Here are some solutions I suggest to help alleviate this problem
  1. Contracts. An educational contract between student, parent, and teacher is signed by students who are left behind. Included in the contract would be goals for the student, reasons why the student believes he/she is having a difficult time, and a commitment by parent, teacher, and student to see improvement. This way the 3 major parties to a student's education sit down and come up with a plan. Quarterly reviews mandatory.
  2. Study groups. Students who have been left behind are not generally stupid. Many just 'don't like school'. However, if the state required said students in a given school to study together, do group projects, be accountability partners, etc. it fosters a sense of community, inclusion, and takes them from outsider to a sense of belonging. No longer do they feel as though they're the only ones left behind (pun intended) in the educational system. Instead, by seeing others like themselves and watching their progress they would be encouraged to do the same.
  3. Shock treatment. Sometimes you have to be 'scared-straight' as the ol' folks used to say. Various programs could revolve around looking at where people end up without an education-even to the point of having students do research projects on homeless people. In other words, show these kids and, to a certain extent, their parents the ACTUAL results of not having an education and the importance of taking ownership of their education. It might be tough-love, but the alternative is worse...much worse.
But here's the point: the problems in the RI educational system aren't obscure. They are glaringly obvious. It's time to step up to the plate and tackle these issues. Failure is not an option. Period.


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