Obama calls social promotion “a disservice”

In an interview with the Washington Post about his education agenda, Obama cited a controversial Chicago policy as an example of how his administration would raise standards.

In the 1990s, Chicago Public Schools stopped promoting students to the next grade — or graduating them from high school — just because they were a certain age. Obama said it is now “obvious” that so-called social promotion is a “disservice to students” and their parents.

(You might recall that high-level Oakland school administrators have taken the opposite tack, as seen in the student retention memo that I posted the other month.)

Before people jump on the president’s bandwagon on this issue, they might want to check out a series of reports on the Chicago policy (which included a testing “gate” in the eighth grade) by the Corsortium on Chicago School Research. The researchers, who tracked students over time, don’t leave the reader with such a clear sense of the policy’s merits.

One of the reports, published in 2004, says:

While overall dropout rates decreased with the promotion gate, the gate had adverse effects on the most vulnerable students, and, at best, only modest beneficial effects on other students’ likelihood of completing high school. This is not strong support for the policy.

What are the solutions here? Is Obama making the fix sound too easy?

Katy Murphy

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

  • Debora

    Use a program that works, has a proven track record. I know of a couple of kids that have had small group work at Sylvan Learning Centers. The students must at risk for failure need to have their tutoring off campus where they are not teased. And the students who are tutored in small groups at school are teased.

    We also need to negotiate a good contract with Sylvan. I think one reason it works is that because so many parents pay big money and look at the overall results of the center, Sylvan must perform and make sure all students are moving ahead.

    In Oakland we do have a policy of social promotion, grade inflation and a general belief that self-esteem is the most important thing in school. If our city accounting department could not balance the books, but worked well together and felt great about our city would that be enough? If our Park and Recreation department kept students safe, but spent only half of the time for a basketball camp on skills and team play, but the Park and Rec staff felt good about safety, would that be enough?

    We need to understand that in the working world, where these students will end up if they are not in jail, they will be expected to perform a job. If they arrive late, they will not be employed. And, if our economy continues to struggle there will not be a safety net while they figure it all out.