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Topic: Social Promotion
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 16,576
Registered: 12/3/04
Social Promotion
Posted: Jun 20, 1999 2:01 PM
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[Note: The following note was received, along with a response to it
by Ms. Sheryl McCoy, consequent to my earlier posting regarding
social promotion -- for your information.]

My boss passed me a note on a legislative update (no date or issue
number) that spoke of fiscal 2000 appropriations. It states in general
that President Clinton asked lawmakers to increase:

. title I funding by $320 million (making a total of nearly 8 billion
. class-size reduction funding by $200 million (making 1.4 billion
. after-school funding by $400 million (making it 600 million dollars)
and targeting the after school money to school ending social promotion.

My boss then asked me the following questions:

. What is meant by targeting schools that end social promotion? (I assume
this is the practice of promoting a youth based on age rather than the skills
learned to pass)
. Is the funding targeting after-school a separate source or is it added
to the 21st CCLC funds.

Thanks for your help on this one, if you choose to respond.


Dear Ms. __________:

I want to commend your boss, whoever he or she is. It is a wise educator
who looks for inspiration among the ranks of teachers. I would think that
parents might also have some appropriate input on this subject.

I know you had several questions, but I will respond to one at a time In
response to your question about eliminating "social promotion". I, along
with a majority of my fellow thinking teachers, agree that THE SCHOOLS

Before we ask students to get better, we should look at textbooks filled
with incorrect and misleading information. We should, at the state level
take full responsibility for encouraging local education units to provide a
free and equal education for each student. Encourage higher education to
get their students into our local schools earlier in their college
education. We must honor teachers who are experienced and well educated,
not throw them out for cheaper, low quality new replacements. We must clean
up our own act, and politicians must not keep sending unfunded mandates to
the local level. We must not ask any child to suffer for our political

Since sending attachments is problematical at the moment, I am sending a
copy of Gerald Bracey's report on this very subject. I was notified of this
report by Professor Jerry Becker at Southern Illinois University. Many of
us, including you and your boss, also have an open forum to discuss the
most important issue of children and their education through a thoughtful
education organization called Phi Delta Kappa.

Recently, I revisited a powerful article from Kappan, October, 1998 written
by Joseph S. Renzulli. I love the title, "A RISING TIDE LIFTS ALL SHIPS:
Developing the Gifts and Talents of ALL students". Check it out!

Also, you should read about the gifted sophmores in Massachusetts who
recently refused to take the state sponsored so-called standardized test
that will be used to determine the future of all Massachusett students,
including promotion and high school graduation. One of the students wrote
an editorial about their choice just a few weeks ago. While these children
are not worried about social promotion, they have concerns that relate to
the topic of state controlled testing, individual student value, and
determining destiny.

Plus, I don't know why the state of Missouri would want to go along with an
obviously, misguided federal plan when your students have outscored many in
the United States on the TIMSS test.

I am all in favor of more money, especially for lower classroom numbers,
after school enrichment for all, summer school enrichment and
reinforcement, etc; BUT, if I were working to protect the interest of the
children and families of Missouri, I would insist on very clear information
about this particular issue...just what is social promotion? Where is the
RESEARCH that proves that it works?

Oftentimes, a politician will make outrageous statements like this:
witholding federal money for those states not eliminating social promotion.
School programs are not like the Highway programs of the 1980's where the
Reagan Administration held back the funds of states until they lowered the
speed limit to 55mph. CHILDREN ARE NOT BARS OF SOAP. They will be asked to
support us in our old age, and I am afraid we will get what we deserve if
we punish children for our mistakes.

For what it is worth, many of our greatest minds, including men like Thomas
Alva Edison, were deemed too stupid to learn (at school) when they were

Well, here is the Gerald Bracey Report:

From Education Disinformation Detection and Reporting Agency (EDDRA) -- a
Gerald Bracey Report on the Condition of Education.
See .

Also, in Education Week, June 6, 1999, p. 42.


President Clinton once again calls for an end to "social promotion." If the
kids aren't cutting it, hold them back in the same grade. E. J. Dionne
worries that retaining children in grade might turn out to be just another
gimmick. It is worse. It is a disaster. Given the increasing popularity of
using failure as a pedagogical technique (!?), it is important to know this
about retaining children in grade: it doesn't work.

Unlike most aspects of education which have contending forces pulling in
opposite directions, the body of research on flunking kids speaks with a
single voice. One 1991 study reviewed the research literature on 49
educational innovations, calculated their impact on education achievement,
and then ranked them in order of power. Retention in grade ranked 49th. It
was among the few innovations that actually produced negative results. I
recently reviewed and updated this research literature adding studies not
available to the 1991 analysis. Nothing has changed.

Why do people think failing kids works? In large part because they are not
in a position to conduct a controlled experiment. Teachers and parents
usually can see only how retained children fare the next year. They do
better--on the same material they did poorly on the first time around. A
little better. Few blossom into high achievers. Teachers and parents,
watching the children struggle in the second year in the same grade then
assume, reasonably, that the children's' situation would have been that
much worse had they been promoted. The assumption is reasonable but wrong.

There have been situations in which some children who had low achievement
were promoted while other children of the same low achievement were
flunked. In those settings, the children who were promoted fared at least
as well, usually better than those who were left behind.

Retention is often presented as the only alternative to "social promotion"
or promotion for "seat time." In fact, it is nothing more than a way of
pretending to do something for a child without actually doing anything.
Except make the kid pay with another year in school, surrounded by a group
of strangers, all younger than the flunked child. Some have declared that
they need the threat of retention to make children work hard in school. The
administrators and teachers who make this claim seem not to realize that it
is a stunning admission of incompetence. As if they have nothing else in
their motivational arsenals.

And, of course, these teachers and administrators--not to mention
politicians like Clinton--are left with nothing to say when presented with
the school systems of Japan and much of Europe that do not retain--or
track--children at all before the differentiated curricula of high school.
In international comparisons, these systems score as well or better than
the United States on everything except reading where only Finland scores
higher--their "social promotion" doesn't damage achievement. When I
discussed retention with Danish educators while spending a summer in
Denmark, they said they considered retention in grade a barbaric practice,
something that would be practiced only by a primitive culture that didn't
really like its children.

And it is true that retention has significant negative emotional outcomes
in this country. One study found kids rated their fear of retention in
grade just behind losing a parent or going blind. Other studies, while not
so dramatic, typically find that retained children say they are "upset" or
"sad" about it. No study has found that retention does wonders for self

So what to do for low achieving students? From an analysis of the research
data the answer seems to be this: provide these children extra assistance,
summer school if need be (something that is a lot less expensive than
having the child repeat the same grade the next year), and then promote.
Retention in grade is a practice that has no place in any society that
thinks of itself as humane, as doing best by its children.

Whenever a district or state proposes tougher rules for retention some
folks express concern about the increased cost of retaining lots of
children. They should worry. Retaining children greatly increases the
probability of their dropping out. The good citizens will get their money
back in the short term when the kids leave school before graduating, but
pay many times over when these students end up on welfare or in prison.

I hope this helps!

Best regards,
Sheryl A. McCoy
KS Earth Science Teachers Association
614 North Main
Erie, KS 66733
Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 USA
Fax: (618)453-4244
Phone: (618)453-4241 (office)

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