Grade Retention Policy
Demands Private Solid Planning & Ample Funding
There is a lot more to education
policy than "acting
tough" and spouting generalizations. How about focusing
on exactly how we will actually achieve the academic improvement
we seek for students, rather than just "spin" a complex
education policy choice, mocking those who ask essential questions
as sorry opponents of change?
It is troubling that any individual who either questioned
the Mayor's plan to hold back failing students in the third
grade, or who criticized (as did I) the Mayor's strong-arm
tactics in having his way on this issue, was branded by hizzoner
as an "apologist for the status quo"—or worse.
The Mayor should know better, even as some editorial boards
stoked this misrepresentation of the views of many individuals
dedicated to improving our schools.
I, for one, am opposed to automatically
promoting students from one grade to the next if they have
demonstrably failed to learn what is necessary in order to
ascend the education ladder. But ending social promotion
by mayoral fiat and actually having a sound educational plan
to have the held back children succeed are entirely different
matters. The Mayor forced through the policy change and is
only now scrambling—with a group
of unnamed advisors—to devise a teaching strategy to
bring low-performing students up to speed, rather than leave
them with the same learning blocks a year later.
And that's not the only problem. The Mayor's plan fails to
diagnose those with learning disabilities; fails to identify
those who simply don't test well, and fails to recognize those
children for whom being left back might actually do more harm
than good. It is completely unclear what instructional devices
are planned that would lead to a leap in learning for a child
who has been held back.
These matters are serious ones if
a policy of grade retention on a large scale is to be fair
and effective. Surely we do not want to hold third graders
back for the purpose of having fourth grade scores jump through
some would say—in a Mayoral election year.
Addressing these issues and answering the questions raised
by members of the Board of Education should have been undertaken
even though it did not fit neatly into the Mayor's political
timetable, or the next day's press cycle.
Finally, the Mayor's disdain and
obstruction of the Board's legal responsibility to "consider and approve" systemic
education policy issues is an absolute distortion of the School
Governance Reform Law enacted just two years ago. The Mayor's
contention that the Board's (or the "Panel on Educational
Policy," the name he prefers) purpose is to merely rubber-stamp
anything he wants is not what the Legislature intended.
The Mayor and the Chancellor would do well to listen more
closely to the counsel of men and women who have considerable
experience in education issues, which they do not, rather than
stifle discussion and stamp out dissent. We need to put the
public back in public education
and have key school policy decisions made in public view.
For a Mayor and a Chancellor with no background in public
education to behave so dismissively towards those who question
their views is a debasement of the democratic process and disservice
to our students.#
Assemblyman Sanders is Chairman of the Education Committee.
You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
or by phone at 212.979.9696. His mailing address is 201 East
16th Street, New York, NY 10003.