Breaking the Law to Continue Social Promotion Doesn't Really Help Kids

Holding back kids who have failed, rather than just pass them on to the next grade and the next teacher, is an education policy that strikes a lot of people as good common sense. But, of course, good common sense does not prevail so often in large public education bureaucracies.

Apparently, in some cases, following the law can be a problem for public education bureaucracies, too. The brilliant Jay Greene writes about Georgia school officials who flouted a law that required students to pass a test in order to move up to the next grade:

In Clayton County 97 percent of students who failed the re-test to get promoted or simply didn’t take the re-test were promoted to the next grade. When asked about why these students were promoted, the District issued a statement that said, “the philosophy of prior administrators was to promote students who failed and provide them remediation.”

Oh. I see. The law says that students unable to pass the state’s test ought to be retained but Clayton County school officials had a different philosophy. Their philosophy was that they don’t have to follow the law.

Jay knows this is more than just a problem of disobeying the law. From his earlier research, he has found that the anti-social promotion reform strategy actually works:

In a study I did with Marcus Winters that was published in Education Financial and Policy, we found that retained students significantly outperformed their comparable peers over the next two years. In another study we published in the Economics of Education Review, we found that schools were not effective at identifying which students should be exempted from this test-based promotion policy and appeared to discriminate in applying these exemptions. That is, white students were more likely to be exempted by school officials in Florida from being retained, but those students suffered academically by being exempted.

So some Georgia school officials are ignoring a state reform that would actually benefit students? I’m still young enough to be shocked by this, I guess.

All this makes you wonder why the state of Colorado or Denver Public Schools doesn’t pursue this type of reform, a key part of the ongoing Bruce Randolph School success story. A lot of adults out there seem to want to “help” kids by promoting them for not having learned what they should. Are you really helping us, though? Self-esteem can’t be manufactured; self-esteem follows success.

Speaking of which, my Colorado Rockies could use a real self-esteem boost, and soon.