Thursday, March 20, 2008

The 8th Grade Social Promotion Problem

The Kleinberg administration has rammed through a vote that stops the social promotion of 8th graders. While I usually disagree with the DOE position. Here, I reluctantly agree that 8th graders should not be automatically promoted to the high schools. As a high school teacher I have seen too many of these not-ready-for-high school 8th graders fail academically and drop out. While I understand that as many as 18,000 8th graders may be "left back". The alternative is worse, social promotion.

Presently, only 1,200 8th graders are not promoted to the high schools. I am shocked that we have that many 8th graders "left back". Why? Because the middle school principals are always trying to push as many not-ready-for-high school 8th graders into the high school, knowing they are unable to academically succeed in the high school setting. Time and again I hear stories from middle school teachers how the principal will pressure them to change failing grades to passing, just to get the student out of the school. The most common statement by the principals is "do you want 17 year old boys with 12 year olds?" Therefore, many of the not-ready-for-high school 8th graders are promoted anyway. Let the high schools handle them.

The supporters of "social promotion" have only themselves to blame for this new policy. Many of these supporters don't see the big picture and insist that with extra help, the students can catch up to their peers. The problem with this outlook is that it is not realistic. Yes, if there was in place an intensive program in a self-contained, small class structure, some of these students may eventually succeed. However, in the real world of the DOE this transitional program does not exist in the high schools, except in special education programs. The transitional program necessary to assist the not-ready-for-high school 8th graders cost money, lots of money and we all know that the DOE will not be funding programs like this anytime soon.

Realistically, the Kleinberg either or proposal pits social promotion supporters against the grade retention groups and since there is no money allocated for the programs necessary to help the not-ready-for-high school 8th graders. I find myself reluctantly agreeing with the DOE in this case. Ugh!


ed notes online said...

I think you're looking at this from the wrong perspective. The DOE goal is never in the interests of children but to make a political point an to make it look like they are solving a problem. Data show that once they "ended" social promotion - which Leonie Haimson suggests we rename "test-based retention" - less kids were held over.

The goal of BloomKlein is to use the issue to either force kids out of school before they enter high school or go through a sham process whereby they are hoping the threat and the follow up summer school (where they will get a test so easy they don't even have to take their shoes off to count) and pass anyway.

Don't get fooled by the sham

17 (really 15) more years said...

Our 4 failing 8th graders are going to be pushed through. Period. We can't even reason with our AP on this one. They have been assigned an AIS teacher to help them "catch up". And since the principals now have to pay for summer school out of their budgets, you can be certain that no kid will be retained.

The 8th grade state exams are a joke. For a 70 minute section of the math test, the kids were done in 20. The questions were ridiculously easy. I'm fairly certain all my kids scored a 2 or better. Our kids' biggest problem is pure laziness.

Personally, I would skip summer school, and retain them for half a year, then send them on. At least they would learn a life lesson.

Chaz said...


I understand what Kleinburg are doing. However, as a high school teacher, I have seen what social promotion has brought. Higher dropout rates, poor academic statistics, and discipline issues.

Better retention than social promotion.

By the way the DOE doesn't fool me. I know that they have a children last program.

See 17's comment.

ed notes online said...

There are no easy answers. I question whether they would learn a life lesson. They will probably drop out - maybe they should since they are not doing much anyway. I also question the idea of just sending them on to drown and struggle.

There are reasons why they are failing. Exploring the reasons would be the only way to solve the problem - lazy, problems at home, emotional, not able to do the work, etc.- that may be the job for a social worker. I bet they've been alreay held back before and a lot of good that did.

So if we hold them back or promote them, the problem will not be solved without intervention. And either way, that is not going to happen.

17 (really 15) more years said...

Norm and Chaz- I don't know what the answer is. And don't get me wrong, I do have mixed feelings about retention. I think it needs to be looked at on a case by case basis.

Two examples: A young man with some skills, did no work last year, failed all his major subjects, and scored a level 3 in math and level 2 in ELA last year. He went to summer school,was promoted, and now appears to be doing decently in high school- he visited last week, and asked to do community service, swearing that he wasn't going to screw up anymore.

Another example- several years ago, I had a student who attended summer school for both 7th and 8th grade. He had severe learning and behavioral issues, minimal skills, but was promoted to high school. I ran into a woman in the nail salon who taught in one of our feeder high schools. We got to talking, and it turned out she had this student. She looked at me and said, "Can you please tell me why you promoted him? He has no skills." I was embarrassed when I couldn't give her a reasonable answer.

Having said that- a student like him would probably get by in a vocational program. There is no way he can ever attain a Regents diploma. Perhaps that's the bigger issue- I don't know.

Chaz said...

Norm & 17.

I agree with both of you but the DOE puts the schools in an either/or position. There are no easy answers to this problem. Sure, many of these 8th graders should be in vocational schools. However, there are very few in the city and some of them (Thomas Edison for example) are recruiting the mechanical engineer than the auto mechanic.

The best idea is to have two or three schools with transitional programs for these 8th graders that would have small classes and intensive academics with master teachers (paid like the lead teacher) who would bring them up to speed for the 10th grade in their selected schools.

The problems are money, which large school has room for this program, many of the large schools are bursting at the seems, and will the DOE support a long-term study to see if it works.

Until something else is done I will support retention over social promotion.

Anonymous said...

This program will lead ironically to more social promotion by just scaring teachers into passing more students in their required subject classes. Grades are already meaningless and that will be worse.

Chaz, they will be coming to high school more unprepared because teachers are just pushing everyone through because they don't want to get in trouble and kids know they don't have to do anything to pass.

JUSTICE not "just us" said...

These are the children whose parents are not involved in their education and if they are they have no clue as to how to help their children. Do you really believe for a second that the DOE has their educational interests in mind by this policy?

Anonymous said...

ann & Justice:

If you read my blogs you should know how I think Kleinberg has a "children Last" program. To even think that they are doing a good thing here is wrong.

However, I am sick and tired of these not-ready-for-high school 8th graders being pushed into the high school without proper academic skills. The result, low grades, disruptive behavior, and dropping out.

Therefore, the high school gets lower academic grades, higher violence statistics, and a lower school grade from those DOE non-educators at Tweed.

ed notes online said...

Why do we have to accept either or? We should fight for what is the right thing to do. Our major problem from a teacher point of view is a union that is not there for teachers as an advocate to fight these battles. The kind of discussion taking place here is not going on in the union. If it were and a policy of intervention decided upon, gathered political support for, and fought as a priority, we would at least have a chance.

15 more years - take the kid who you were embarassed about. Say you didn't promote him. Would he have done better the next year? Maybe if he matured but like you pointed out with the other child, these things are often out of our control. You have as much chance of seeing a change with sending him on as holding him back (and would you do it again and again until he's 20?)

If you analyze stats and anecdotals, it can be a 50-50 split. I would rather promote him and put resources into the high school to try to have an impact.

Just came from dinner with relatives with a 14 year old whose grades have suffered because she is an athlete with an injury and can't perform - these are amongst the most actively involved and supportive parents I know and they are still helpless to stop her downslide at this time though they are trying everything.

Imagine the kids out there without any support from family and who might be going through all sorts of stuff that is causing academic problems. I know this is bleeding heart but we should be thinking about real solutions, not push button answers that may or may not work.

Many of you guys are middle school and high school. As an elementary person I got to see adn know the parents and backgrounds and nwighborhood in a way that provided a lot of insight into the overall situation - in some ways it made the kind of decisions teachers have to make very difficult. Kids who had skills but were lazy were always the kind you hoped would mature. Some do and some don't.

17 (really 15) more years said...

Norm- I honestly don't think the answer is in black and white. Some kids do indeed go on to high school and get their acts together. Some don't. And I have to look at it from Chaz's point of view as well, because I've seen too many kids moved on who I know do not possess the skills the need for high school (probably because they came to middle school without skills).

What's the answer? I honestly don't know. I do know that anybody who doesn't give a damn about kids should not make a blanket statement about "no more social promotion", a la Klein and Bloomberg.

A best case scenario would be the "bridge" program that was like a blip on the DOE radar a few years ago. Move the kids on, but into a high school setting. Give them at least a semester of "skills readiness" training, and then move them on. But, once again, in the "Children Last" DOE philosophy, why put resources into helping kids when you can put 80 million into a computer system that doesn't work?

Anonymous said...


I agree with you. It should not be black and white. However, given that Kleinberg does not allow money for these transitional programs (Bridge program being one)and the union does not take up the case to the media. The result is either social promotion or retention of these 8th graders.

Granted there are many ways to handle this issue but they cost money and hiring of additional teachers. That is not happening in the near future.

sexy said...