Repeat performance

Social promotion is less common at high-performing charter schools, writes Sarah Garland in The American Prospect.

In keeping with their focus on rigorous academics and accountability, many charter schools have adopted strict “retention” policies requiring struggling students to repeat a grade when they don’t meet expectations, sometimes even if they’re just a point shy of passing.

. . . Charter-school advocates say this allows them to help students who are far below grade level to catch up. It may also give charters an edge over regular public schools on test scores.

Students who are held back rarely catch up, according to education research.  Often they repeat the classroom experience that didn’t work the first time. Charter leaders say they provide extra help to enable students to succeed.

Charter students facing retention sometimes return to district-run schools that will place them in the next grade.

Gary Miron, a Western Michigan University researcher who studies charter schools, says the retention policies of charter schools may sound good, but they “could be a mechanism to have the weaker kids go back to traditional public schools.”

But (Stanford researcher Margaret) Raymond says her studies have found that students who leave a school rather than be retained are less likely to be minorities or on free or reduced-price lunch, suggesting that it’s the more affluent parents who worry about the stigma of repeating a grade.

In my book, Our School, I write about a San Jose charter high school’s struggle to prepare students — most from low-income and working-class Mexican immigrant families — for college success. Because of social promotion in their K-8 years, Downtown College Prep students start ninth grade with fifth- or sixth-grade reading, writing and math skills, on average. They need time to learn the skills and work habits that will let them do college-prep work and go on to earn a college degree. Pushing everyone through in four years is a guarantee of failure.

Via HechingerEd.

About Joanne


  1. Homeschooling Granny says:

    When one of my sons was in high school, his math teacher said that he would pass the course that he was taking but that his skills were too weak for the next course in the series. I asked whether there was another math class that would be on his level with material that would be new to him and so not boring. There was. He took that, in a sense moving sideways. He was able to continue with math.

    It’s been almost 20 years so I’ve forgotten details but he later took the Engineering Technology program at Rochester Institute of Technology so evidently his math ability was adequate.

    I’ve wondered ever since whether something like that could be done for everyone who needs to repeat a grade, that they should not do the same things over again but be able to approach what they need from a different perspective.

  2. Our desire to avoid discouraging students by retaining them runs up against our equally strong (I hope) desire to not discourage them by placing them in classes that are discouraging to them because they haven’t mastered the skills needed to keep up . The solution of having classes (say Sophomore English) that are structured to meet the needs of those who didn’t pass Freshman English because of low skills, is off the table, because it resembles tracking, even if the goal is to allow the students to catch up and take (say) regular Junior English. To me this all amounts to a perpetual effort to avoid hard choices.

  3. I have several cousins, in two generations, who moved to private prep schools (some day, some boarding), as entering-HS or early-HS students. In all cases, the schools had the kids repeat a year, even though they had done well at solid (supposedly, at least) public schools. One cousin ended up repeating freshman year at a local prep school and repeating another year (sophomore, I think) when he moved to an elite boarding school. Some of those schools also required successful completion of their pre-entry summer school as a condition of fall entry, for those kids who were more than a year behind. Those schools demanded that new kids be able to compete equally with the kids already in the school and I understand this is typical of prep schools. Public schools need to do the same thing, such that all kids are in a class where they are challenged but not overwhelmed and drowning.

    Schools also need the freedom to remove dangerous kids/ kids unable to function in a normal classroom permanently and persistently disruptive kids as long as needed. Warehousing kids who don’t want to be there only ruins the chances for other kids; only a few bad apples can ruin the whole barrel. Offer different kinds of schools for the dangerous and the cognitively/physically/emotionally impaired and lower the dropout age of 14 or completion of 8th grade. End the fantasy that all kids are equally able and/or equally hardworking.

  4. Actually, it’s much more common for charter schools to give a student a C rather than failing them. No F, no social promotion.

  5. Actually? Cite?

  6. It’s a tough balancing act if you’re a teacher. In NYC, they don’t want social promotion, but they don’t want anyone to fail either.

  7. Social promotion is a great corrupting factor in our public school system. There’s a whole class of kids out there who have checked out by seventh grade because they’re already over their heads, and it just gets more hopeless as they move along. True literacy and intellectual competency are slow-growing plants; kids can’t catch up in a quick crash course, or in one year with a great teacher. Many of these kids literally cease to learn anything in school; their minds are elsewhere. Many of them disrupt and thereby degrade the education of their classmates.

  8. tim-10-ber says:

    Why do we still have grade levels? Isn’t subject knowledge mastery more important? So…if the kids pass every thing but a subject advance them to the next level and figure out the right class for whatever the subject was they need help with. Grade levels need to be abandoned…