Happy Trails Samuel Freedman!

One of my favorite writers for the NY Times' education section is moving on. He wrote one final farewell, a collection of stories and reflections on his reporting. A couple of pieces stuck out for me.

Before teaching I was under the impression that No Child Left Behind is an unmitigated disaster. This is because the Democrats have seized it as a campaign issue and stigmatized it as yet another failed Republican policy. Even teachers described it as a nuisance at best and at worst as a threat to the very process of education. I see it as a flawed policy, with a good idea at its heart and I was happy to see Freedman defend it:
In reporting about Princeton High School in New Jersey in 2005, I saw how the law shined a necessarily harsh light on the persistent disparity between black and white pupils even in an acclaimed school.

A new superintendent took over the Princeton district with a mandate to correct the problem, one that the community admitted to only because of No Child.


The other anecdote that hit close to home was his closing:
No education column received greater reader response than one last August about an award-winning, idealistic young math teacher, Austin Lampros. He had been overruled by his principal at the High School of Arts and Technology in Manhattan when he tried to give a failing grade to a senior who missed scores of classes, didn’t even show up to take the final and claimed a dubious medical excuse.

The student got her passing grade and her diploma. The principal still has her job. The only loser was Mr. Lampros, who quit a profession he adored rather than be party to a travesty.

Testing grades are finally coming back. Students who scored a 1 on the test are supposed to be held back. Even though 2 is technically below grade level (approaching meeting the standards if you want to be exact), it is a passing grade.

Surprisingly, I find myself advocating not for a student who didn't pass like I expected, but arguing for a student to be held back. I discussed this student earlier. She scored a 2 (not a 3 like I originally heard), but reads at a 1st grade level. To promote her would be a disservice to her, her future 5th grade teacher and, pardon the melodrama, the very idea of education. And yet it's made pretty clear to me that she will be promoted because to hold her back will be a blemish on the school's record.

I highly doubt I would quit upon losing this battle, but I also doubt I'll be able to shake an uneasy feeling that I will have failed this child.

Samuel Freedman is a great writer. He's been an inspiration and a great advocate and observer of the ongoing education debate in New York City and the U.S. I'll be keeping an eye out to see where his byline pops up next.

Comments

hatdog said…
There's another reason principals won't hold students back - the ones that need it are often the ones they don't want to keep in their school for an extra year. I have at least three students that should definitely NOT be going on to the next grade, considering their test scores and their classwork, etc., but no one seems to be able to bear the idea of spending an additional year with them. I'm being transferred to another school, so there's no chance I'll be teaching them next year, and I'm being told to pass them all "on trial".

I respect the teacher for refusing to pass that student, but each situation is different, and in this case I'm not going to the mat.

Retention doesn't always do much good, anyway - a high school student failing a class is quite a bit different than holding a 4th grader back for a year. Younger students are growing fast, and kids who get held back can have a hard time socially.

On the other hand, all the kids see that you don't really have to pass any tests or do any work to move to the next grade. I went as far as to explain "social promotions" to my students - that just because you get promoted to the next grade does not mean you mastered this one. It means you did at least the minimum required to move on. It felt kinda crummy, but it was honest and I think they deserved to hear the truth. Passing from one grade to the next is not the mark of achievement that it should be, why pretend that it is?

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