What are we to do about high school kids who fail courses in grades nine and ten and don’t seem to care? We are being told if a student doesn’t earn 16 credits by the time he is 16 years old, there is an excellent chance the student will drop out of school and not graduate. In the province of Ontario where I teach, high school students are expected to earn eight credits in grade nine and another eight credits in grade 10 for a total of 16 credits.
There’s so much pressure on teachers to do what it takes to get these kids to pass courses. At the end of the semester when teachers are writing report cards, sometimes teachers are called down to the office and
told strongly encouraged by the administration to change a failing mark to a passing mark. The word rigor seems to have no place in these conversations. Small wonder teachers are disillusioned and discouraged.
High school teachers are always complaining about the social promotion that goes on in the elementary schools where students who fail subjects in a grade still get to go (are socially promoted) to the next grade even though they’ve failed . These students come to grade 9 with huge gaps in their knowledge and skill sets. These gaps set students up for failure. I think socially promoting students is morally wrong. We’re not doing students any favors by passing them now when they haven’t mastered course content just to fail them later because the gaps in their knowledge prevent them from mastering the next grade’s content. That’s not being respectful of our students.
I know, I know there’s a huge debate about social promotion, about a kid’s self-esteem etc. I actually haven’t seen any studies on the topic of social promotion. I can only tell you what I know from my own personal professional experience. Maybe this summer I’ll search the literature to see what research says and share my findings here.
I teach students who have been socially promoted, and I see many of these students continue to fail and be at-risk academically in grades nine and ten. They often do not earn 16 credits by the time they are 16. Academically at-risk students who continually fail courses are kicked out of regular high school when they reach 18 (legally they have to stay in school until 18) and sent to alternative schools to continue their education. Some of my students have come back to visit me and have told me that the alternative schools didn’t work for them either. Some students admit it’s their fault they didn’t succeed in high school, but some students blame the school system and certain teachers for their lack of success. They may have a point, but that’s a whole other can of worms.
I’ve been meaning to read Alexander Russo’s Stray Dogs, Saints, and Saviors for some time now and since school is out for the summer, I can. I’m enjoying it immensely as well as learning a lot about the challenges of school reform. Russo’s book is about school reform- a topic I’ve been thinking about a lot lately given my frustrations with 16 by 16. Specifically, Russo’s book is the story about the challenges Green Dot and its founder Steve Barr encounter while trying to reform Locke High School in South Central Los Angeles. Surprisingly, I hadn’t heard about the Green Dot story. It must have been on the news and in the papers. I don’t know how I missed it, but I did. I’m certainly going online to see what I can find to fill in my gaps about Green Dot and Barr.
While reading Stray Dogs, Saints and Saviors, I came across this passage that really spoke to me.
Letting a kid pass a class in which he’d barely learned anything, in the hopes that he’s catch up later and benefit from having moved along, or flunking a kid and making him dig in at least a bit, with the knowledge that such a might not happen? It was a difficult call- and an age-old question. Teachers-and schools-have been passing kids along for decades.( Russo, p. 93).
I naively thought this problem of passing kids along was a problem just in Ontario, Canada. I hadn’t realized that teachers in other jurisdictions are having to make the same difficult calls about passing or not passing academically at-risk students. What happens in schools in other countries like Japan, France, Germany, China, Scotland? What do they do with kids who really don’t pass? I’d like to know.
photo thanks to dullhunk