Philly's pressure cooker

Teachers from myriad Philadelphia high schools are complaining of palpable pressure to pass undeserving students on to the next grade. It comes in the form of memos, meetings, and even personal phone calls. "We have to give fake grades," revealed one teacher. "We're not asked to educate our kids. We're asked to pass them," explained another. "I'll get a phone call saying, ‘Are you sure he earned a 58? Are you sure it wasn't a 65?'" noted a third. A June 7 story in the Inquirer prompted Philly superintendent Arlene Ackerman to disavow the practice and order an investigation. One early casualty is a ludicrous district policy that set a minimum grade for failed assignments at 50, instead of zero. (Ackerman axed that amid the brouhaha.) Also blamed is the amount of paperwork required to fail a student, while passing holds no similar bureaucratic hurdles. Most troubling is that pass rates on courses, which teachers allege have been twisted into an assessment of their effectiveness, are a contributing metric to school report cards. The result, of course, is a classic perverse incentive for schools to move lagging students onward rather than reporting the truth about their performance. Though this situation seems a quagmire, the morale of this story is not: Social promotion does a grave disservice to students, to schools, and to teacher morale and professionalism.

"Teachers cite intense push to promote," by Kristen A. Graham and Martha Woodall, Philadelphia Inquirer, June 21, 2009

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