Social promotion exposed

Liam Julian

Standards and accountability hawks (Fordham??swirls among them) have never adequately explained how top-down accountability systems avoid situations such as this. After an exhaustive investigation of Tucson's schools, the Arizona Daily Star reports:

In the 2006-07 school year alone, nine in 10 students were moved to the next grade level, but data show that nearly a third of them failed basic courses in English, math, science or social studies. At least 94,000 students failed essential classes during the past six years.

Our 2007 Fordham Fellows, almost all of whom had spent time teaching, often noted that those in Washington, D.C., and state capitals who write ed policy prescriptions are sometimes blithely ambivalent about their tonics' function at the classroom level. Tucson's problem is of that indicative.

One is forced, after reducing his stock of problems, to see that without an overhaul of the teaching ranks, standards and accountability reforms simply cannot work. Policymakers can write laws and set achievement targets, but for the middle-school educator whose chief incentive is to stay out of trouble, a class, one-third of which cannot read, poses a major problem. This teacher is unconcerned about, say, the state standards but is merely looking for a convenient way to pass a group of??trouble students on to another class. Grade inflation and social promotion??are suitable for his purposes.

Most teachers are not pernicious, and many are simply placed in tough situations. But if these employees are not completely devoted to the tenets of an accountability system, the system will be undermined from within. And even if teachers are devoted--might Charles Murray not be onto something when he writes that some kids, regardless of the attention and help they're given, just won't make it? Might policymakers not be better served by retreating from their idealism, accepting that some pupils will always fail academically, and developing ways to assist them or, at least, prevent them from undermining those around them who have a shot at success?

This doesn't mean abandoning high standards. It does mean accepting that not all kids will meet them and understanding that??such students??deserve to be provided non-academic pathways to success.

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