Social promotion, the practice of promoting students from one grade to the next even when they are not academically ready to progress to the next level, is a nationwide problem, according to the American Federation of Teachers. Students are often promoted simply because of their age, or fear of damaging their self-esteem. Last month, Gov. Pete Wilson signed two bills to end what he calls "the worst form of false kindness." The measures enforce strong academic standards, give teachers greater authority in deciding whether a child is held back and provide funds for remedial classes to help students succeed at the next level. MAURA E. MONTELLANO spoke with two teachers about the new legislation.
JOHN ESPINOZA, Teacher, 2nd grade, Malabar Elementary School, Los Angeles
I like to see kids achieve within their age group and reach academic levels with their peers. In the past, holding children back was done more frequently without criteria to benefit the child, like other options. Now, we have step-by-step procedures to determine if a child should be retained and what would be the best thing for that child. Teachers do have more say-so but ideally this decision should be made as a cooperative effort with parents and administrators. I'm afraid that if teachers are given too much individual power, they will be holding back children who only are limited by the language. Children lose confidence in themselves when they are retained. It is like telling them they are failures. And you can bet their peers know what's going on too. Eventually, down the line, these children will be restricted in future education pursuits and we will see the dropout rate go up. What we want is for them to function in the world, not fail. Maybe if we had a different framework--like a multi-age classroom--then we wouldn't worry so much about this. I like the idea of summer school, after-school tutoring and of expanding the number of days we teach in the year. This could be helpful for the children's academic advancement. This, in combination with other things like Propositions 209 and 227 and the effort to have kids read by a certain grade, is setting teachers up for much criticism. You can make a wish list all you want, but unless you give teachers full support financially and academically, this won't work either. We need a national financial effort to revamp our schools. We should try to exhaust all other alternatives.