Should Johnny repeat a grade? No, says OUSD.

Last month, I stumbled upon a memo addressed to all elementary school principals, strongly advising them not to retain kids in the same grade for a second year — particularly kindergartners, English learners and special education students (unless that is part of their education plan).

“First off, the research is clear; retention does not work,” it says.

The memo gives various alternatives, ranging from “culturally sensitive instructional strategies” to before- and after-school interventions and better communication with families. It also said that “all retentions will have to be personally approved by your NExO (the principal’s supervisor) in May of 2008.”

It has a 2009 date stamp, so maybe it was just distributed again this year as a reminder. You can read it here.

What do you think? Is “social promotion” the way to go if, in fact, retention doesn’t work anyway?

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Sara

    So what, we just send them to the next grade where the teacher has to not only teach her grade level but the grade level of the student who should have repeated. The school I work in passed kids who had GPAs way below 2.0, to the 8th grade, including one with a 0.0 and another with a 1.2. The idea is not to master the information, it is to get a grade and go on to high school where they can then not pass the CASHEE. Some of these kids figure, why bother to do the work when I know they will pass me again, and that is what they are doing. If the student is so old and large in size that they shouldn’t be in a class with younger students, then those kids with low GPAs wshould all go to a separate school where they can get help with their work, if they want it, and get up to speed so they can eventually pass.

  • Jim Mordecai

    Years ago the California Legislature ended social promotion in California but the administration in Oakland hasn’t paid much attention.

    Actually, before the State take-over the administration passed board policy making promotion standards based with a standards based report card but during the take-over and changes in Board policy the retention policy got lost and the District currently does not have a retention Board policy.

    The principals and NEXOs are not part of the standards based promotion policy required by the legislature. The legislature designed a standards based promotion policy that makes retention automatic unless the classroom teacher (not principal or NEXO) intervenes.

    Ed Code 48070-480705 in part is provided here: “…a pupil is performing below the minimum standard for promotion, the pupil shall be retained in his or
    her current grade level unless the pupil’s regular classroom teacher determines in writing that retention is not the appropriate intervention for the pupil’s academic deficiencies. This written determination shall specify the reasons that retention is not
    appropriate for the pupil and shall include recommendations for interventions other than retention that in the opinion of the teacher are necessary to assist the pupil to attain acceptable levels of
    academic achievement. If the teacher’s recommendation to promote is contingent upon the pupil’s participation in a summer school or interim session remediation program, the pupil’s academic performance
    shall be reassessed at the end of the remediation program, and the decision to retain or promote the pupil shall be reevaluated at that
    time. The teacher’s evaluation shall be provided to and discussed with the pupil’s parent or guardian and the school principal before any final determination of pupil retention or promotion.”

    At Board meetings I have repeatedly pointed out that the Administration has no retention policy and is out of compliance with Ed Code that requires a standards based promotion policy that was designed to do away with social promotion.

    I am just pointing out the on-going non-compliance of the District in ending social promotion. I personally oppose changing to a standards based retention policy because I have read the research that finds retention is as bad a policy for a school district as torture at the national level. I find the District is doing right for the wrong reason having to do with the State Administration’s dysfunction.

    Jim Mordecai

  • harlemmoon

    Katy this is a story worthy of further analysis.
    In fact, there are major studies that refute, if not outright repudiate, the information contained in the OUSD memo.
    This is an incredibly controversial topic, with roaring national debate on how best to proceed when students don’t reach the bar.
    That OUSD has come down on the side of “just move ’em along” is particularly stunning when you consider that many – if not most – of these children are in dire need of intensive academic assistance, much of which OUSD is either unable or unwilling to provide. This “policy” sounds more like “surrender.”
    It hardly creates the conditions for success; rather it dooms hundreds, if not thousands, to certain failure.
    Parents should be outraged. The district should be embarrassed. And the board should be recalled.

  • Debora

    It is true that nearly all studies for retained students show a high school drop out rate of over 50% and a success rate of repeating a grade at under 10%. By success rate, I mean that in two years the student is working at their current grade level.

    However, repeating a particular grade is not the answer. There needs to be a specific educational plan for each of these students. A plan is NOT “redo first grade and you will get it and be fine for the rest of your school career.” We have a terrific kid at the elementary school my daughter attends who repeated first grade. And at the end of the second year of first grade she had the material “mastered.” She is now in third grade and struggling, yet again.

    She and others like her want to learn, they learn much more slowly. Are we prepared to have a 13 year old fifth grader? Is that what we want? Don’t we owe this child an educational plan to move her along? And finally, having three months off sets this particular child back five or more months, why can’t the educational plan include help over the summer.

    To fix our educational system, we need to start thinking about how to serve the students rather than how to preserve the traditional classrooms, traditional school year, traditional school and traditional curriculum.

  • TheTruthHurts

    I agree. THis is worthy of further analysis. Holding back isn’t working. Promoting may hurt other students even if it helps the deficient one. We should have a specific plan to address this and it doesn’t sound like we have one. Why would I want my child in a classroom where the teacher is understandably spending most of his time with kids that were socially promoted.

  • Mr. G

    Are there any districts in the area that are applying a standards-based retention policy? Have they been successful?

    What about charter schools within OUSD? Are they required to follow the same rules? If they are retaining students, is it working?

    Interesting that only 10% of students who are retained are considered success stories. Assuming that this statistic is accurate (a big if!) I wonder what percentage of students who should have been retained based on their mastery of standards, but who weren’t, are working at grade level 2 years later. It probably hovers somewhere around 0%.

    By socially promoting, instead of educating our lowest performing students, we are merely babysitting them (in the same classrooms as those students who ARE working at grade level) until it is someone else’s problem. Perhaps someone can explain to me how that is not an abject failure of our educational system.

  • Katy Murphy

    I believe that KIPP charter schools retain kids if they’re deemed to not be ready for the next grade. At least they did when I talked to KIPP spokesman Steve Mancini a year or two ago about the high levels of student attrition at KIPP-Bridge (in West Oakland).

  • Nextset

    I don’t want to beat the readership over the head with it – but… You know, people develop at different rates. The gap between the brights and the dulls is clearly noticable at puberty even to OUSD. You can’t mix brights and dulls in the same schools/classes for academic work. All you get is a bunch of unhappy people and related acting out. And you get a ruined school district with disgraceful performances, an OUSD.

    This memo is part of the documentation of the deliberateness of OUSD wrecking what was once a functioning school system, turning it into one of California’s worst school districts. We all knew this was going on as official policy – you can’t have a school district so bad by accident.

    OUSD needs to right away impose a series of standards, tests if need be, for placement in any regular high school. If the student can’t read at 6th grade level (or better) they shouldn’t set foot on a (regular) high school campus. Or whatever the minimum standards are going to have to be. No exceptions, no excuses. No racial quotas. Maybe then the high schools would start to operate as real schools.

    As far as 3rd grade, 6th grade or whatever, ditto.

    The dull students need schools of their own, programs of their own, teachers of their own. They have needs that aren’t being addressed, such as how not to get pregnant, how to stay out of jail, how to survive. My own high school managed to handle our dull students by giving them a track of their own within our campus. Now I understand my district has created an alternative high school to give the dulls/disturbed kids their own faculty, building and principal. At our 30th reunion the dulls (all graduated with survey courses) were OK, employed, not in jail – they had lives and they weren’t dead either.

    I’m afraid that under the current politically correct way of thinking my dull high school classmates would have been ground into paste and run out of high school in frustration by being forced into an academic program obviously not suited to them.

  • Oaklander

    As a former first grade teacher (though not in Oakland), I’m strongly opposed to unilateral social promotion policies—*especially* for kindergartners. We saw much stronger student performance from kindergartners who repeated that year than from students who were sent ahead to first grade with trepidation on the teacher’s part and who subsequently had to repeat first or second grade. Socially, I see kindergarten as the opportune time to have students repeat a year—first grade is a critical year of learning to read, grasping foundational math concepts in preparation for more advanced work in the following years, etc. We occasionally had kids sent on from kindergarten without very basic one-to-one number correspondence or letter skills. You simply can’t learn the first grade curriculum without these skills. True, not every child will pick them up with a second year of K, but it gives them a chance, at least (and any child who doesn’t have these skills down following two years of K should have been flagged for evaluation and an IEP, anyway).

    The other BIG problem we had was parents pushing the birthday thresholds for kindergartners. A kindergartner with a birthday at or near the cutoff whose skills aren’t up to first grade is a pretty ideal candidate for repeating the year and still being well within his peer group agewise. Pushing him along before he’s ready is a formula for years struggling with school, and the longer you wait to intervene, the more significant the social impact on the child. (A couple families I knew opted to switch schools and start the second year of kindergarten at a new school, which is a fine option too if that’s a resource available and parents are concerned about stigma.)

    Just my two cents….

  • Recruiter

    These kind of policies are exactly why folks who have “graduated” from Oakland schools cannot pass a basic filing test. I have been a recruiter for 25 yrs and have owned a personnel service in SF for many yrs. I cannot tell you how many Oakland youngsters have come to my office to apply for entry level filing jobs and have not been able to pass a very basic alphabetic filing test. When they fail, they tell me “there is more than one way to file alphabetically”. Go figure. Do these kids a favor and hold them back until they learn what they need to learn or they will be unemployable forever.

  • harlemmoon

    Less a favor, Recruiter. More an obligation.

  • Deckin

    Nextset has it exactly right–of course, I hope they know that they are perilously close to uttering a hatefact. Does anyone in official Oaklandom really have the guts to stand up and admit what everyone with two brain cells to rub together knows? Intelligence and aptitude are not equally distributed throughout the population. Any population that consciously ignores that fact does so at the cost of absurd bastardizations of good sense and a treatment of our youth that borders on the cruel.

  • Jim Mordecai


    I don’t think it is possible to keep a student out of 1st grade unless a parent agrees because Kindergarten is not mandatory in California. The School Board regulation deals with the issue below.

    It is interesting that the School Board has a policy for acceleration but not a policy for promotion within the grades. As I posted before this is a screw-up by the State Administration that let the existing School Board promotion policy drop away when under Randy Ward’s administration all the Oakland Board’s regulations were revised by an administrator replacing all the Board’s regulation with the model Board regulations provided online by the California School Board’s Association. Maybe it was a long day and the administrator forgot about providing a promotion policy as the promotion policy was a combination of acceleration and promotion. I believe promotion was assigned the same school board number, AR 5123 that remains only for acceleration.

    I believe the State Administration has published guidelines for principals but these guidelines are not in compliance with the State’s Ed Code that abolished social promotion.

    Jim Mordecai

    Administrative Regulation

    AR 5123


    Acceleration from Kindergarten to First Grade

    A student enrolled in kindergarten may be admitted to the first grade at the discretion of the Superintendent or designee and with the consent of the parent/guardian, upon determination that the child is ready for first-grade work. (Education Code 48011)

    Admission shall be subject to the following minimum criteria: (5 CCR 200)

    1. The student is at least five years of age.

    2. The student has attended a public school kindergarten for a long enough time to enable school personnel to evaluate his/her ability.

    3. The student is in the upper five percent of his/her age group in terms of general mental ability.

    4. The physical development and social maturity of the student are consistent with his/her advanced mental ability.

    5. The parent/guardian of the student has filed a written statement with the school district approving the placement in first grade.

    Continuation in Kindergarten

    Students who have completed one year of kindergarten shall be admitted to first grade unless the parent/guardian and the Superintendent or designee agree that the student shall continue in kindergarten for not more than one additional school year. (Education Code 48011)

    Whenever a student continues in kindergarten for an additional year, the Superintendent or designee shall secure an agreement, signed by the parent/guardian, stating that the student shall continue in kindergarten for not more than one additional school year. (Education Code 46300)

  • Your comment is awaiting moderation.

    Nextset & Deckin have it right of course!

    Regarding retention, if it’s going to happen the earlier it happens the better! A child’s academic readiness for (contemporary) Kindergarten and then first grade are key for maximizing school success potential.

    Of course, the critical nurture ingredient for school readiness is the quantity and quality of parent/child language interaction (1st) and related literacy stimulation (2nd), complemented by a child’s sense of social emotional well being.

    Unfortunately, it’s near as much a SIN of ‘political correctness’ (& agenda) to acknowledge the contribution of parental inadequacy to school failure (e.g., “blame the teachers”) as it is to whisper that all children aren’t born intellectually equal.

    A society reaps what it sows, and when it continues to plant lies it will continue to reap catastrophe. I fear it’ll only get worse before it doesn’t get better. But I guess that’s the price of progressive progress.

  • oakland mom

    I have three children who have come up through the OUSD ranks. My daughter went straight through all her grades and had no problems. She graduated from a well known college and all along was a great student. My sons however were “socially immature” and one did two years of kindergarten and the other one stayed home an extra year. The gift of time was the best thing we could have ever given our sons. They were able to achieve what they needed and maintain good grades. Unlike their friends who were promoted, they have not had the social issues that their friends have had. Our sons have been a bit more mature and ready for the academics. At our school, retention is not about the academics but is all about the “whole” child. Academics and social maturity go hand in hand. These two qualities must be at equal levels for a student to achieve. This decision should not be left up to the NEXOS. This is a decision that should be made by the parents and the teachers. Since when do they not know what is best for a child?

  • J.R.

    All children are not intellectually equal, all parents are not equally good at teaching,nurturing or raising their children, and all teachers are not equally capable(some are square pegs in a round hole,including some tenured vets).We as a community must see to it that these shortcomings are dealt with to the best extent that we can.For the children there is after school intervention and tutoring(we still haven’t been able to deal with the disciplinary aspect yet, for the parents who have failed in this regard).The parents can attend workshops(maybe some parenting classes would help too).The teachers who are consistently deficient or even abusive should no longer have the public trust and privilege of teaching our children, time to retire and find a new vocation.

  • Marilyn V. Williams

    Neither retention nor social promotion work. Kindergarten retention is best when a child is immature and needs time to grow, but it would be even better to spend more time in preschool and start kindergarten later. Our kindergartens have gotten more and more academic (they’re basically what first grade used to be) yet our legislature is still back in the stone age. A child still does not have to be 5 years old before Dec.2nd to start kindergarten in September, and it is so age-inappropriate!

  • Nancy

    What’s missing here is the idea of “Merit,” or promotion based on performance.

    After working with students for over 20 years now, I notice that there are 2 tail-ends in most groups:
    1. The advanced/proficient group who will perform pretty much no matter what, and then,
    2. The tail end group that consists of below-and-far-below basic, those who will most likely reject most attempts to “save” them +/- a few “success” stories.

    Then, there is the middle group (+/- a few from both tail end groups)which should be our target group, that is, the basic group which is often the lazy group, that with more merit incentives will perform toward the upward tail.

    However, because they are all grouped into one and the idea of merit is thrown out the window, this is where everything falls apart in traditional schools.

    For me, I think kids should not even start formal school or start to learning reading until 2nd grade. They should be free to experience their world and should only do math, music, arts, and physical education using direct-hands on, inquiry-based learning–but nothing written nor any pressures.

    They should learn to love what they do each moment they are doing something in a “group” setting and should have positive feelings and memory-building going on in any “learning” setting.

    This “Heil Hitler” style of increasingly pressuring Kindergartners and other children to score on tests and/or “meet” standards is ridiculous.

    Any mother with a child will tell you that you cannot force baby to do anything he/she is not ready to do.

    We all miss the joy of being and becoming our fullest and helping children to blossom to their fullest when we are so much in a hurry to force it down their throats so to speak.

    Schooling needs to be individualized and each and every moment of learning should be joyful and remembered positively.

  • Jim Mordecai


    It is the parents’ choice on whether children attend Kindergarten as Kindergarten is not mandatory in California. However, 1st grade is mandatory, the State falling one year short of your desire to allow kids to explore until second grade.

    Unfortunately, many kids not in school will not have a rich preschool experience that provides a curriculum of exploration.

    Meanwhile, children enrolled in school are taught by teachers pressured to show testing data progress that pushes away the idea of a child exploring and pressures teachers into having their youngsters taking up developmentally inappropriate pencil and paper exercises displacing a curriculum of exploring long before the second grade.

    Jim Mordecai

  • Catherine

    We should also define “a rich preschool environment.” Poor children are sent to Head Start or to other “academic” preschools where they are taught to write letters, numbers, the front of a book, the back of a book, colors, shapes, etc.

    My children went to a play based preschool which would not necessarily been considered “high quality” by those standards. The children did not sit and listen to books read to the whole group at the same time. If they saw a book that was interesting, they asked a teacher to read it to them and he or she read to the child, which often became a group of children.

    Colors where not “taught” but rather learned by “grab the green watering can and fill it so we can make mud pies. Use the white hose because the water flows faster from it.”

    The comparisons are huge – the state sponsored or endorsed “high quality” do not support the learning from mud, worms, real hammers, real nails, sand dripped in hair and over skin, writing names with your finger or a stick in wet sand or climbing and jumping out of trees, which is exactly what a play based program does – kids are ready for “seat work” because they have explored with their bodies.

    We also need to listen to the quality of language spoken. Rich language with simple, compound and complex sentences using words where children need to use past experiences to derive the meaning of the word, create thinking beings. Rules that are contrived to make adults feel “safe” around children – such as no cutting with a knife, no climbing and jumping from trees, harm children’s’ ability to make sense of cause and effect.

    This type of global thinking prepares kids for classroom learning. Yet we think they have to know their letters and numbers by repetition – this is the same group of people who also think that more homework is needed for a struggling child to master information – in all of these instances the government and school districts are wrong. Yet, instead of looking at, studying and making decisions on data, state and county governments and OUSD make decisions on their own thoughts about what makes good learning.

  • Pepe

    The tendency to group students into bright or dull groups seems like an extremely dangerous path to take.

    Which culturally-biased test would the proponents of this method propose to use? Who should have the authority to make these decisions?

    What percentage of those “dull” students have been dulled by the absence of high quality teaching and an inadequate school system? Should these students be tracked and held back because the school system failed them?

    I know many people (friends, colleagues, etc.) who struggled with school for a fairly long time and are now teachers, lawyers, doctors. Reasons they would cite for their struggles include: racism/sexism of teachers or counselors, traumatic experiences outside of school, ineffective teachers or even having a substitute teacher for a full year, undiagnosed learning disabilities, etc. These “dull” students eventually met someone or went to a school where their needs were better met, and they flourished. Many of them I would consider the most talented and intelligent people in my life.

    Nextset, your assertion that these dull students need to learn “how not to get pregnant, how to stay out of jail, how to survive” is ignorant and offensive. Please do not confuse perceived intelligence with social problems. You are most likely referring to school drop-outs when you mention these issues, but this often has very little to do with intelligence and more to do with school, family, or community issues.

    The call for students to have education plans that fit individual needs makes a lot of sense to me. Having students simply repeat a grade seems rather sisyphean, promoting students sets them up for failure and sends the message that failure is OK, and tracking students early on seems criminal. These students should have the equivalent of an IEP to support them and encourage movement toward grade level proficiency.

  • Nextset

    Pepe: Gee where do I start with you?

    Get over being offended by public discourse. It’s not all about you. Other people couldn’t care less if you are offended. Maybe you were taught in your school that everybody else has to be nice to you. You were taught wrong. No one owes you more than the law requires.

    If you expect public schooling to be a burger king affair where you have it your way, you are going to be really dissapointed by life. Public school teachers, administrators and school boards have a finite budget and they have a fiduciary responsibility to get the most with it. Individual handholding is not going to happen to the extent anybody would like. It’s irresponsible to expect it or to plan for much of it.

    We track students because it pays (for them) to do so. A teacher cannot fuction well when he or she has a class with, say 1/3 of the students unable to work at all at the level of the class average. She either ignores the 1/3 or fails to function with the others – just letting them teach themselves. Teachers cannot service both groups unless you accept the Chaos that is current fashion at OUSD and other Urban Schools. This is not a hard concept to understand.

    There is not a problem of cultural relativity with IQ or other tracking placement tests. You either cut it or you don’t. Whether we test by flashing lights, math, verbal skills, whatever – the idea is to place like with like and to allow people to challenge up rather liberally (ie you score into your default assignments and you have to ask/be pushed to transfer up). The point is not to place students into situation where failure is expected. Like the current fashion of putting students who read at 4th or 5th grade level into a standard high school.

    If that is racist testing – Too Bad, So Sad. We don’t care how you or they feel about it anyway. And if you are in the bottom 25% of OUSD – got news for you, that is really Dull!.

    As far as what is taught in the schools for the dull student, well it’s not going to be calculus. It would be classes that are relevant and meaningful for them. Something that counts towards the low common denominator high school diploma – and something that gives them a chance to stay alive (health, sanitation, etc), out of trouble (Basic Criminal Law & Basic Civil Law, Landlord-Tenant Law), and something that gives them a chance to become self sufficient as well (Basic Standard English, Basic Math, Deportment, Civics) and all the vocational classes that can be managed.

    If they want to be a brain surgeon they need to transfer to university prep track which should be at a different campus anyway. I can just see the lines forming now.

    If you are in a class and don’t perform to the average you get a D or an F. Average, that is 60% of the class – gets Cs. As and Bs together are limited to maybe 25% of the class grades. It’s called a grade curve and it’s to prevent grade inflation. Having to face this every day is why we have dropouts when we mix the dull students in with the brights. Dulls would get Cs and better in their own schools – but they wouldn’t be in calculus classes or in anything else with the higher levels of cognitive functioning. And that’s the way life is.

    Alphas like being Alphas and Betas like being Betas. You get trouble and violence when you mix the two.

    brave New World.

  • Nextset

    Also Pepe: Intelligence is what drives the “social problems” you refer to. The dumber, duller people have the bulk of the “social problems”. I admit that addiction has a strong genetic component which can co-exist with intelligence to some degree. Smart druggies do exist, but tend to not allow themselves to go to jail even though they have (significantly) higher mortality rates.

    The people we see who are unwed mothers and habitually institutionialized (jail or nuthouses) are typically dumb as bricks, and they were born that way.

    Take a look at Banfield’s “The Unheavenly City” which is required reading at my UC Berkeley Sociology Class. There are a number of sociology books similar. Dumb=Criminally inclined. Discipline/Religion can be used to temper these tendencies.

  • Catherine


    OUSD uses the Raven’s Progressive Matrices test for intelligence and giftedness. No language skills required. It is a test proven to have no bias whatsoever because there is no need to know information that a poor family wouldn’t have. It’s simply looking at patterns and identifying the next pattern in the series.

    I wish they would use a test that would give a specific IQ – however the Raven’s gives a range.

    Imagine – one of my children is in the 150 – 155 IQ and she sits in the same class with kids who test slightly below 100. Imagine if the average kid, let’s say one with an IQ of 100 – 105 which is average had to take classes with a kid with an IQ of 60 – 70. We would consider that a moral outrage because the disparity is so huge. However, we put the 150 – 155 kid in the room and make them numb and dumb with boredom.

    My daughter brought home something she did in second grade while she was waiting for others to catch up (to be fair, it took her two sessions of about 30 minutes) – it was a list of 50 countries, a minimum of 3 from each continent with the exception of Australia, in alphabetical order. It’s what high IQ kids to keep from going out of their minds.

  • Pepe

    Nextset, the reason I read and respond is for public discourse. Discourse is one thing, pontificating is another. I don’t pretend to know all of the answers, and I find it ironic that you remind me that “it’s not all about you.” I do not pretend to have all of the answers and I probably wouldn’t be wasting my time here if I thought I did. I speak from experience, and I speak out when I see inequity and racism. I too could care less that I get offended, but I believe it is reprehensible to act as judge and jury of children. That is my belief, and I don’t expect you or anyone else to care. This will not stop me from voicing my opinion.

    You make a false assumption when you imply I believe school is about being nice. School should be about having the highest standards and doing everything to help as many students as possible reach that high bar. Of course, not all students will be successful-that’s why we have grades. I also believe that grade curves are too artificial–grades should be based on a pre-established set of standards, not on relative performance. I would be happy if no students in OUSD earned A’s, as long as they are learning and being held to high expectations. I also don’t believe we should force all students onto the college track, but I cannot imagine denying that possibility to anyone. By putting someone on the track you discuss, that is essentially what you are doing.

    The chaos that you claim as inevitable is merely lack of truly quality teaching and an insufficient school system. I have seen it work, but we as a district/society don’t have enough quality recruitment, training, and support of teachers. You say it’s economically unfeasible, and I can’t think of a better investment.

    As far as the IQ testing, it is my belief that there is too much concentration on a particular type of intelligence. What about social intelligence, kinesthetic intelligence, etc.? Aren’t these types of intelligences just as valuable for succeeding in life after schooling? IQ testing could be valid for identifying students who might need to be challenged more in school, but using it to measure and classify all students seems too much like eugenics to be palatable for me.

    How many people do you actually know who have the social problems which you discuss as if you had first-hand knowledge? I know drug addicts who were potential valedictorians, and they would laugh at this line:
    “tend to not allow themselves to go to jail”
    as they show you their incarceration history. I have met juvenile delinquents that were essentially starting lives that would only lead to incarceration or death whose academic potential I envied for my own children. While it may be established by sociologists that dumb=criminally inclined does not mean that criminally inclined=dumb. It seems more of a cause and effect relationship than one of equality.

    On the other hand, I have read about autistic children who are not functional in school or society that score highly on unbiased IQ tests.

    I believe our society takes a narrow and biased view of intelligence, and our school system does too little to build up true, balanced intelligences. The traditional form of education is itself biased, and I am a believer in changing education rather than continuing to shut out certain populations. Because these populations are historically from under-represented minorities, it is also my belief that by supporting traditional education means supporting suppression. If you do not actively work against racism, then, it’s my belief that you are racist.

    I am the first to admit that I have racist tendencies myself (most likely stemming from my traditional upbringing), and I actively fight to counteract them. I see it as my responsibility to also do this in a more public manner. For that reason, I engage in discourse. I do not claim to be a visionary in a brave new world. Thanks for making me clarifying my viewpoint.

  • Nextset

    Pepe: The clarification was very useful.

    Searching through your post I get the idea that you believe outliers are important or significant. They are not when dealing with large numbers of people. While anything is possible, when we discuss running a huge School system such a LA Unified or OUSD we deal with stable numbers, profiling if you want to call it that.

    Your entire point above is that outliers exist and we should run the system to accomodate them. Well, Yes thay do and No we shouldn’t. As far as the racism cant – it is the sign of a weak mind. I’m black – because of that there are many things that I am statistically more likely to be involved with. So? Is that a problem? It doesn’t matter what I think/want – I got over that a long time ago. Realities are what they are. The term “racism” is used to mean “please don’t hold up that mirror”. On some things I’m an outlier I suppose… and so are the rest of the extended family. A relative was a PhD in chemistry in the mid 20th century at a time where black Chem PhDs could be counted on one hand. But he died of Cancer of a type more common of blacks. Whatever.

    We don’t make “investment” by using the OUSD budget as you suggest. We do so as I suggest. We don’t squander money and opportunity on unproductive chases while we turn out half the black students as unsocialized dropouts. And the half that does “graduate” are largely put at increased risk because they have come from “bad” schools where they are in no way made ready to compete in the Brave New World.

    You would accomplish more if you get over the “inequality and racism” cant, got through more research and life experience, and move into what works.

    Perhaps our different view has something to do with age, education and life/work experiences.

  • Catherine


    It sounds like you are advocating that we let kids who can’t sink a basket be on the varsity basketball team. After all, we wouldn’t want to discourage anyone from playing with the best of the best. It would be racist and sexist not to let white girls play on our best basketball teams. There is too much emphasis on the coaches choosing the best, tall male players. How about my 9th grade, 5 foot tall, white daughter?

    Oh, you may be thinking, perhaps she has to play on the girl’s team? What if there isn’t one? Or maybe the fact that she is just over 5 feet tall would not qualify her?

    That’s what it’s like for a kid with a very high IQ – the same thing as a 7 foot tall basketball player who knows the rules, can sink a basket at half court, can strategize the whole game in a blink of an eye slowing down to the level of a 5 foot tall girl who has only sunk a few baskets in her driveway.

    The high IQ kid must literally stop their thinking for about 5 hours per day for the other kids to catch up. Then, just as in basketball there is day after day after day repetition of homework, classroom drill, and testing on the very same subject that was mastered through a pretest on the first day of school – just as the basketball player would not want to stand in the same place for 5 hours per day and continue to shoot baskets from the same place because they have already mastered shooting baskets from 10 feet away, a kid with a high IQ does not want to continue to add three digit numbers for 5 months after they proved two grades before that they have mastered the work.

    Pepe you say you worry about the emphasis in school being on IQ, however, this is the job of every teacher – to teach to the level of capability for each and every child. A child coming out of poverty – regardless of race – whose parents, grandparents or guardians only give verbal instructions, not engage in conversations about why and how things happen, is just not as prepared for classroom learning – just as a child who has been raised indoors is not prepared to play competitive basketball. It doesn’t mean either of these children can’t learn, only that you should not advance the poor students or players at the expense of the gifted, skilled students or players.

  • Nextset

    Catherine & Pepe: It’s not just that placing the dull kids with the bright ones holds back the brights (they typically manage anyway) – dull kids get hurt when they are pitted against brights. The comparison with a basketball game is useful. Imagine what would happen to the 5 ft white girl tossed into that All Star game.

    And the hurt I’m thinking of is not just physical (and it can be physical) – it’s psychological.

    Students in the large public schools need to be sorted by IQ/ability and placed in schools/programs suitable for them and generally kept away from the other extremes. They can read about each other. While you may think you can find common ground, you can’t at the extremes.

    This is relevant to the “repeat a grade” thread because the problems become visible when students flunk and repeating the grade doesn’t help the problem. In many cases the flunking student is retarded/disturbed (and I use the term retarded liberally). The student’s IQ or performance is so far below the average that they cannot participate fairly in the higher functioning school and they need to transfer out to their own schools. So we are not going to have a 17 year old sitting in a normal 7th grade class (with 13 year olds). We aren’t going to let that happen because the students would be mismatched sexually/socially and you don’t let kids that far apart fraternize.

    And it’s no coincidence that it’s at puberty where the differences between the brights and dulls become dramatic. By refusing to create different schools and programs and trying to keep the different students together we drive the dulls out of the system altogether – which is why OUSD and the other urban districts have maybe half of their 17 year olds no longer in school. And the situation would be worse if the private and church schools weren’t drawing off the brighter students already. If the private schools together take a half of the total teenagers, the missing kids are maybe a quarter of the total – the bottom quarter.

    Those kids are gone because the public school system failed them – failed to create a program they could reasonably manage in. This is a failure we didn’t have in 1965 – albeit back then, 1 in 10 Mexicans had not relocated to the USA, many to CA. Now enter the Charter Schools.

    OUSD needs to publicy admit that all students are not created equal – and provide a choice to all students to go with an academic program or a non-academic, vocational program with a bare minimum of academics and an emphasis on life skills and employment skills. And let the families choose. If OUSD doesn’t do it maybe the Charters will do it for them.

  • Pepe

    Nice sandwich.

    Catherine, I am not talking about not identifying and supporting gifted children or about advancing struggling students beyond their capabilities. In fact, the opposite is true. I couldn’t agree with you more on this:

    “however, this is the job of every teacher – to teach to the level of capability for each and every child.”

    But the needs of a child should not be based solely on an IQ test. They should be based on the level at which a child reads, does math, interacts with peers, plays piano, plays basketball. I’m glad your daughter has a high IQ, but I bet I could also find an area where she is lacking that would flourish under a talented teacher and working with students who have lower IQs.

    The situation you describe is merely bad coaching, just like there are a lot of inadequate teachers. Believe me, I was in the same situation you describe. For a while, I was a nightmare for the teachers who failed to challenge me, but later in my school experience, I was fortunate enough to have many teachers that succeeded in challenging me while addressing the needs of the rest of the class as well. That’s called good teaching.

    In addition, I do not propose putting your daughter on the best basketball team. However, I would be up in arms if she was denied the possibility of trying out or improving enough to eventually be on that team.

    Your daughter has many privileges others do not. The fact that you are on here says that she has a mother who cares and is active in her education. In addition, the color of her skin is and will continue to be a form of privilege in our society. I am not trying to make anyone feel guilt; I just want people to understand that from my perspective it is morally wrong to use labels that deny opportunities to our children, especially those that lack many of the privileges held by the few.

    And Nextset, I believe it is Catherine and you who are arguing for a system set up for the outliers–you want to set one up for the extremes. You used the bell curve to justify one point within subgroups (smart and dull), but then you seem to imply that it does not apply to the whole group, arguing that a great percentage of students should not be placed on an academically focused track. Aren’t your dull students really the outliers on the lower end of the bell curve? I do not argue for a system set up for the outliers; I argue that their needs should also be met. I do believe some of the education you propose for “dull” students would be valuable for many children, but you cannot force a large group of kids down a path laid out by the situation they find themselves in that will only lead them to one destination. Maybe the only system for outliers I would agree with is for those students who are in danger of becoming drop-outs. I agree with you here that we are not doing enough to improve their chances of success in life or even survival.

    I also agree failure is difficult for many. A great teacher can find a way to move most students to success, and that has a transformative power for children who have experienced failure. Labels are much more harmful. Imagine the hurt of a student who is labeled “dull”–that damage is much more irreversible. In that case, the definition of success is completely out of the hands of the individual. That student would be much more likely to accept mediocrity and failure for the rest of their lives. I have seen students who were hurt badly by failure, but at some point they experienced success and became unstoppable. Labeling them would most likely have discouraged any motivation they actually had to prove otherwise.

    Your assertion that students who fail or are held back are often “retarded/disturbed” is preposterous, even if you use the term liberally.

    Thanks for the dig at my weak mind and for judging that I don’t have enough life experience. Again, these are our perspectives, they are not reality or absolute truths–it’s my belief that speaking in absolutes and refusing to see another perspective is a sign of a weak mind.

    Also, I am not one of those people who cry racism anytime outcomes are not equal or to my benefit. It is not a label I take lightly. You put the word “inequality” in my mouth–that is not what I am arguing against. I am arguing against inequity–not giving everyone an equal chance of success. No, I don’t believe that all students are created equal, but I believe that our society and school system as it is currently gives unfair advantages to some groups and unfair disadvantages to others. Studies have shown that disadvantaged students are frequently not offered the same opportunities as others. Call it racism, classism, or whatever you like, I believe it is wrong. Many studies have shown that the achievement gap for minority students exists regardless of socioeconomic status. It doesn’t matter how “smart” one’s parents might be or how highly one might score on an intelligence test; as a group latino and african american students lag behind their counterparts at all levels. If that is not evidence of a system that maintains some level of racism, then I don’t know what is.

    So your brave new world existed back in 1965…I’m surprised that you went there. Society and the education beliefs were completely different back then. Many more people saw us as members of inferior races who could not learn and did not deserve the same privileges as our white counterparts. That is a fact. My immigrant father graduated high school a little bit before this year after being prepared to go into a trade. Because of his race, he was not expected to go to college. If that is the world you would like to return to, then by all means, hop on your time machine. Just don’t try to drag the rest of us with you. I prefer to look forward, and I believe we need to completely redesign our school system. It is a structure that was founded on beliefs that are no longer held by the majority and in fact are extremely outdated. Using our current beliefs to design a new system from the bottom-up would allow us to address many of the failures of the current system and to meet many of the needs that are not being met.

    To the group: I apologize for hijacking this article about retention and social promotion. We started off as a reaction to the article, but I fear we have gone way beyond it. Maybe we should take our arguments to a more open forum where we are not distracting everyone from the original issue. I will not respond anymore on this thread.

  • Catherine

    My issues about acceleration, retention, grouping by IQ, skills or motivation or giving poor kids the opportunity to attend a high end summer school, not just remediation, is a way offered out of the current OUSD system.

    The current way the charter schools, the majority of Title 1 schools and even the majority of hills schools deal with children in elementary schools who fall behind, after one attempt at retention is to drill, homework, drill, homework, drill, homework. There seems to be no other plan for the students in danger of failure or retention.

    There are universities, such as the University of Connecticut who have offered at ZERO cost to come to Oakland and test kids and provide a complete curriculum based on State Standards and train every third grade teacher in Oakland. Materials were sent, phone calls were made, no one took UConn up on their offer, noone even bothered to return phone calls.

    Our district has no plans for high level Summer School – drill and kill, but not a global thinking – teaching poor kids how patterns are developed. Teachers just don’t do it. You would be surprised how many of my daughter’s 9th grade classmates who do not even realize that odd numbers are on one side of the street and even on the other – that an Avenue or Boulevard is a thoroughfare, whereas a Street or a Lane is a name of a residential car-driven “street.” These students have no idea of what the responsibilities are for various government branches: a city, county, state or federal government. OUSD just does not, will not teach a global, systematic, broad-based thinking.

    With the limited funds, the limited scope of thinking, the limited teaching as required of “Open Court” reading; “Harcourt Brace” math, teachers who will not require capable children to think in depth about their assignments, schools who do not focus on global patterns and a district who states they review research and implement the proven strategies, but do so only when it suits their politically correct agenda – need – and must separate students to control the drop out rate and give the underperforming students the help they need to succeed in a working life.

    Our schools are failing our students – at least 50% of them, who if they graduate are not employable because of the lack of language, math and work skills. At least separating – however able to do so, will allow teachers the limited range of teaching they desire and say they must have. A class of 32 students with a range of far below basic to excelling several grade beyond the classroom is too much for them, the teachers at all of my children’s schools have stated so – and we have learned through years of experience in OUSD, too much for parents to expect of teachers, principals and the district.

  • Nextset

    Pepe’s comments about his father’s issues with higher education are interesting – I dismiss it to a large degree because minority students did (despite not generally being welcome) find higher learning placements even back to the 1900s. They probably had to be ready, willing and able to move across the country whenever they found a university who would take them – my family and all our friends did. And if you tried to start a family before at least starting the University career, you were trading potential school for family life. Well it all happened. Boo Hoo.

    My generation within my extended family was the first born in CA. All my relatives in the previous generation were part of the black migration to CA and the Western States after WWII. All of us went to white schools from K-12 – we were among the “first” blacks in our schools and we were fighting all the time. Which is how I suppose I got the personality I have. The Parents never could understand how we got this way…(like they ever got involved with the schools..).

    So Pepe – I have my own horror stories about going to school and competing nose to nose with people who didn’t expect you to read “Dick and Jane” well. My cousins all have the same stories. One cousin was to be her high school valedictorian until they changed the rules the week of graduation and gave it to another race.. My parents had to fight to get me enrolled in Chemistry or one of the UC list classes – the high school school was worried it would be “too much” (so was I?) I did fine.. That’s life, get over it.

    None of this is an excuse for destroying what was one of the finest education systems in the world – the CA Public School System – in the name of equality.

    Students should not be in OUSD normal High Schools if they are reading at 5th grade level at 9th grade. Call that labeling them dull? THEY ARE DULL if they can’t read. And unlike you, I have no problem at all with accurate labels, those in question can just get used to it. Because people in the streets and at their wanna-be jobsites are going to accurately label them. Childish reading levels are fine for certain occupations and if that’s the best some students can, do let’s introduce them to those occupations early. When you work with your hands you start work early.

    I believe, and I think Catherine does, that forcing dull students into academic schools is what has created the huge drop rate OUSD has. Once in the academic schools the cohort of dull students destroy the academic program with their presence before they finally leave.

    Tracking students into different educational systems with permissive or involuntary transfers as warranted will have to occur if OUSD is ever to be taken seriously as a “school” – or to avoid being devoured by the Charters.

  • Sara

    First of all, Oakland seems to be committed to hiring very young teachers with absolutly no experience who leave after two years because they can’t deal with the abysmal behavior of the students. They could hire the older, credentialed teachers but they cost more money and there is a real bias against older teachers in the OUSD. And believe me, there are older, credentialed teachers in need of jobs who aren’t getting hired.
    Secondly, I sat in a classroom for two days recently in a high school and about 6 out of 30 kids were actively working – the rest were on their phones or ipods. When the teacher asked them to be put away they either gave her lip or put them away until she wasn’t looking again. These kids had no desire to learn or they would have been doing their work. Stop blaming the teachers and put the blame where it belongs – on students and their parents.
    Take Skyline and make it a college-prep school requiring a certain GPA from middle school and a test to get into. In the other schools teach carpentry, welding, automotive mechanics etc. along with required courses in civics and basic English and Math. They would have to pick up other skills to do their intended professions – such as geometry for carpenters – if it were taught by an actual practical application, it might be easier for them to learn. If students reject all the possibilities, don’t keep trying – tell them bye-bye.

  • Nextset

    The problem with OUSD is not bad teachers it is bad students.

    Bad students can be handled. First thing you do is segregate them into “bad” schools so they don’t wreck any real school. The normal schools will then start behaving as “schools” with scoring and progress at civilized levels.

  • Catherine


    I have a question for you. How would you get kids to school whose parents keep them home to take care of younger siblings. I have kids as young as second and third grade students who are being trained by parents, grandparents, and other family members to stay home and take care of babies rather than going to school.

    In kindergarten, these students were actually reading at the K level, but then in first grade when forced to stay home, their education declined. Who should get involved? What should be done? And finally, since these children have no medical care when I have suggested a doctor’s note for supposed chronic conditions I am told they can afford to get doctor’s instructions on how to deal with the problems at school.

  • Peter

    Folks, we seem to be forgetting that many of the ideas we have for OUSD are completely out of OUSD’s control. Curriculums, standards, and courses of study are designed and directed at the state level. And the supreme court has made clear their ideas as to segregation in public schools. So while some interesting ideas have been raised, unfortunately most are not very viable.

  • Nextset


    You call the Police. Teachers are mandated reporters for child abuse & neglect. The procedure to follow is in the Code books. A written report from the teacher/reporter is required and you can attach photos also. Rotten Teeth, injuries, medical neglect and other tales of tobacco road just have to be written out and filed with the Cops & CPS (Copy to both). You phone first, then when the officers arrive hand them the writings. Then you have done your duty. You ignore any instructions to the contrary from the district and if any person tries to stop you from making a report, you report their behavior also – a crime as well.

    Peter – I disagree. Schools can assign students by ability and prior satisfactory completion of prerequisites to attend classes & programs. And schools can flunk people out also. No court case to the contrary. It’s the legal fiction that has created the mess to date. Flunking students and their families are usually amenable to a transfer to a “special” school just for them. You just have to have to will to run a real “school” and not Romper Room.

  • Pingback: Obama on “social promotion” - The Education Report - Reporter Katy Murphy’s blog on Oakland schools()

  • seenitbefore

    It’s June of 2011… and here we go again. :-( We have 8th grade students at our school who have a 0.00 GPA. Teachers have been calling for interventions and remediation as well as consequences for disruptive or apathetic behavior for these students all year…. and last year… and the year before that.

    The end result is the same. Teachers have no power or authority to hold students accountable for learning and mastering the content standards. The students will be promoted to the next grade level whether they have straight A’s… or straight F’s. And when the students fail….. everyone starts complaining that it’s the teacher’s fault!

    What happens to 8th graders who have earned straight F’s in EVERY academic class from 6th through 8th grade? At our school… they get the same rewards as straight A students. A Dinner-Dance, A Picnic, Walking the stage, pictures wearing caps and gowns. It’s the 8th grade. Really???? And the rationale teachers are given when we try to hold students accountable and deny participation is rewards….. we’re racist.. we’re mean to kids…. we don’t understand that THIS might be the ONLY chance this kid ever has to walk a stage for graduation. Again…. really?? you think so little of our students capabilities that we have to condescend and patronize them. OUSD “policy” pushes them into college prep courses when they are clearly not ready. And then, OUSD sits back and acts like we can’t figure out why these students are failing and dropping out at high school level when social promotion no longer flies. It’s sheer insanity! And it’s a cruel lie to our kids who really COULD be successful if we’d stop blowing smoke up their “you-know-whats” and just offer them a chance to learn at a developmentally appropriate pace.

    Our students deserve better. OUSD needs to stop patronizing our young people and hold them accountable for mastering the material. Social promotion is the cause of our dismal high school graduation rates. And I don’t need some fancy statistical report from some outside consulting agency bean counter to tell me what’s wrong. It’s common sense. Get a clue, Oakland.

  • Harold

    Can we get Dr. Smith or one of our School Board members to address this issue? We are starting this College Prep for all 9th graders in August. How are the 0.00 GPA students, described above, going to do in the fall? Who will get the blame when they fail? If test scores go down, who is going to get blamed?

  • cassandra

    I need help on what are my rights or fighting argument on my daughter who is transferring from a WA middle school to HI middle school. They want to retain her because she had failing grades. This was largely due to economic factors, and she would if she was attending the WA middle school go to the 7th grade. In Hawaii they want her to repeat the 6th grade. She can read and write fluently: she did a 5 paragraph page story with no trouble she knows her multiplication division mixed numbers, geometry and pre algebra. Her grades reflect our economic situation and not her intellectual ability. she will also be turning 13 in Jan. which already makes her an older 7th grader. Telling her she has to repeat the 6th grade has hurt her emotionally as she now feels as though she is a dummy. even though her previous school knew the circumstances which is why she was promoted to the 7th grade. Please help me find some supporting documentation or legal rights as to this would be detrimental to my daughter. I have a meeting with the principle next week Friday 8/29/14. My daughter is hysterical about having to repeat the 6th grade and she is very capable of 7th grade work. Thank you