"President Clinton (1998, 1999) called for an end to social promotion, which many educational professionals interpret as a directive to retain low achieving students."
With all the discussion about public education reform, there remains a wholly self-defeating practice continuing to be engaged in by the majority of parties to this debate. Even though they have the political and social capital to make themselves heard, they posit solutions that focus on goals without addressing the difficult foundational issues that remain unresolved and need to be addressed before attempting to propose a comprehension solution. Leaders in public education reform just ignore these issues and move on. In so doing they plant the seeds of assured failure in whatever model they propose, whether it be district, charter, pilot, small schools, or teacher centered models.
Dr. Shane R. Jimerson of the University of California at Santa Barbara, seems to have spent a considerable portion of his professional life studying the companion issues of grade retention and social promotion to see if either approach is better than the other in helping to assure ultimate student success. After a cursory view of the data he has gathered on his website, one comes to the conclusion that there is not a nickels worth of difference between the two failed approaches that have shown little or no success over the years in turning around students who for one reason or another have been allowed to fall behind their peer group in school without appropriate intervention. Professor Jimerson, "encourages researchers, educational professionals, and legislators to abandon the debate regarding social promotion and grade retention in favor of a more productive course of action in the new millennium."
In looking at these various models of public school reform one finds little difference in terms of success, because rather than continue a policy of social promotion as LAUSD continues to do or attempt to end it as Detroit has recently proposed, I would like to present a more pragmatic model that takes into account and deals with the relevant factors. It would seem to me that more viable "intervention strategies" would concern:
1. The reality that Professor Jimerson's data indicates that there are "mixed results" at best from either following a policy of grade retention or social promotion without dealing with other collateral factors. Whatever model that is used needs to address the academic deficits of the students involved in a timely manner.
2. Does not acknowledge the socio-economic factors that puts many poor children at a disadvantage from birth, because of prenatal diet and care of their mother. The discussion of retention or social promotion is after the fact, because it ignores the fact that these future student infancy and early childhood allowed them to arrive at school without the foundational development that preschool, kindergarten, and elementary presently school presupposes given the homogeneous White model from somewhere in Kansas that it was modeled after.
3. Because a significant correlation exists between ethnicity and poverty in this country, a disproportionate number of minority children arrive at school afflicted with gross developmental deficits that tradition public schools are not equipped to deal with. Add to this the racial implications of pointing out a disproportional number of these deficits in traditionally discriminated minority groups in a time when political correctness makes this reality hard to openly express and you can see the intractable nature of this problem.
4. It is clear that the earlier children are reached with both physical and mental nutriment, the greater chance of mitigation, but it is politically unpopular to acknowledge that irreparable harm is done to students the longer their underlying academic deficits are not addressed until a point where they are no longer educable to a level that would allow them to finish secondary education and move on to college or trade school with the requisite academic skills to succeed in those venues. One can analogize what is taking place in our schools to the legal concept of permissive waste. While things have a normal development and lifespan, the failure to provide minimal necessities for development and maintenance can significantly cut down the potential and life span of an estate. Presently our public schools offer too little too late, so that remedial implementation takes place after the damage has been done. According to studies like Skeels and Dye or cases that deal with "attic isolation" of children during their formative years, irreparable damage is done to a child's learning potential -- and every other indicator of social well being -- before the child ever reaches pre-school or kindergarten. Geoffrey Canada of The Harlem Children's Zone has documented how traditionally underachieving student populations have heard millions less words than their middle class counterparts by the time they arrive at pre-school or kindergarten, placing them irrevocably behind if not addressed in a timely manner.
5. Acknowledge the fact that if irreparable harm has already been done that precludes a student's ability to ever fully succeed to what was their objective potential, a new pragmatic paradigm as to what is now possible must be employed in dealing with these students' cognitive development with age and existing deficits factored in. The most difficult time for this type of educational reform will be in the beginning, because of the varying degrees of damage that students already in the system exhibit. As the years go by with early intervention and enforcement of grade-level standards at all grades, the United States should have no trouble in achieving the 97% high school academic success rates that countries like Finland are able to achieve, since they presently follow this model.