"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves." -- John Adams

"No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution." -- Indiana Constitution Article 1, Section 6.

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilisation, it expects what never was and never will be...nor can they be safe with them without information. Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe." – Thomas Jefferson

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Retention in Grade as Child Abuse

Why would an educated group of professionals continue to support a practice which research over the last 100 years has shown to be ineffective and possibly harmful?

Why would legislators incorporate this practice into law?

What kind of nation fails to provide for its poorest, most vulnerable children?

Diane Ravitch changed her mind about school choice, charter schools and the privatization of public education which is now proceeding almost unchecked across the nation.

Last week she announced that she had changed her mind about retention in grade as well.
I started thinking about the deep humiliation children must feel if all their friends are promoted and they are not. Some years ago, when I was a reliable member of the conservative camp, I favored policies that “ended social promotion.” I thought it was wrong to promote kids to a grade where they were unable to keep up. I dispassionately observed debates between supporters and opponents; I knew that retention was associated with higher dropout rates, but back in those days, I was on the tough-accountability side. Make it harder, I thought, as conservatives do, and children will work harder and get better results. But like so much else that I used to support–like high-stakes testing and choice–I was wrong.
After repeating the results of oft repeated research on retention she continued...
What are we doing to our children? I am speaking now as a parent and grandparent, not as a detached observer who looks at the issues from 30,000 feet and “sees like a state.”...Ultimately, holding kids back does not get them the social and emotional support they need. Instead, it aggravates the very conditions that led to their original failure...“Ending social promotion,” it turns out, is just another slogan that politicians like to bandy about. It makes them feel strong; it makes them look tough; it wins plaudits from the hard-hearted tabloids; it allows the politicians to call themselves “reformers.” But it hurts children.
My colleagues have heard me talk about this repeatedly for years. Some have told me that the research is wrong (I'm still waiting for the research that shows otherwise -- Yeah, MG, I'm talking to you!!). Others have told me that social promotion is just as bad. Still others have asked, "What else can we do?"

There are two reasons (IMHO) for why people want to hold children back. First is the “catch-up” reason. One comment to Ravitch's blog post was from a parent who believed that their child should have been retained so they would have had a chance to “catch up.” Unfortunately research into retention indicates it doesn’t work that way. Children may do better for a year...or two, but 3 or 4 years after the retention year they are failing again and, in fact, often do more poorly than students who were “passed on.” The common sense involved in this — give children an extra year to learn what they didn’t learn — just isn’t the reality. Children don’t catch up.

The dichotomy between social promotion and retention doesn’t have a correct choice. Neither helps children. Just because a child is unsuccessful with social promotion doesn’t mean that he would have thrived had he been retained. A child...let’s say a first grader...fails first grade and the following year is placed in a different class in the same school. The curriculum is the same, the teaching methods (especially now when everyone is required to teach to the test) are the same and the child repeats everything exactly the same as the previous year. They do better that year...but they understand that they are a failure and, more importantly, the underlying causes of their failure are not dealt with. The research shows that in subsequent years they fail again (So-called "social promotion," coupled with effective and intense intervention, is a better choice).

The second rationale given for retention is the “What else can we do?” reason. There isn’t enough money in most schools or school systems to give children what they need. Good maternal nutrition, prenatal health care and good early childhood programs are important to fight the effects of poverty. Once children are in school it’s too late to go back to their prenatal and early childhood lives and change things. The intensive intervention and support which is needed to overcome the effects of poverty are too expensive and too difficult. Most schools can’t afford to give children what they need so the choice between social promotion and retention, neither of which are adequate for the child’s needs, is made.

The truth is that we, as a nation, don't much care about our children -- at least not enough to put our money where our collective mouth is. We have one of the highest rates of child poverty in the developed world...and it's growing.

Until the United States is willing to provide the resources needed to educate all our children there will be those who fail and those who fall through the cracks. Since those children are, according to the research on retention, minorities, poor, and the hardest to educate, they get ignored by all those who don’t work with them specifically. Politicians like to pretend they don't exist...or that it's their own fault. They get the fewest resources, the least experienced teachers, and the most “teaching to the test.” Despite lip service from politicians, our nation’s children, unfortunately, aren’t a national priority.

You might also be interested in this: Third Grade Retention: What Harm Could it Do?

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Stop the Testing Insanity!


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