Ending social promotion at the end of the third grade year has a lot of appeal to those who play politics with public education. People with no classroom experience—Governor Susana Martinez, perpetually interim Secretary of Education Hanna Skandera, and Paul Gessing, Executive Director of the Rio Grande Foundation—advocate the idea to advance a reform which has successfully manipulated scores without improving education in Florida.
People knowledgeable about education know that students learn to read through grade four, not grade three, and read to learn thereafter. The question is why aficionados of everything Floridian prefer third grade. The answer is that holding back poor students in third grade limits testing to good students in fourth grade and thereby boosts tests scores. Whatever else might be said about social promotion, this proposal is a deceptive political stunt. This crowd wants to grab headlines by claiming that it has improved education when it has merely manipulated test data.
The proof that this proposal is not a serious educational one is the Governor’s claim that interventions for those held back will be so effective that no Plan B is necessary—a presumed belief in its magical perfection. If the Governor knows that such interventions will work, why does she not urge their adaptation in grades K-3 to ensure proficiency in the first place? Indeed, the way to end social promotion is to improve education in ways which make it unnecessary.
Worse, the Governor lacks even a Plan A to deal with the estimated 12000 students held back each year: no extra classroom space for the additional students, no additional funding, no specially trained personnel to intervene, no specially defined curriculum or instruction to improve reading—nada, nothing, zippo.
Of course, under these circumstances, it is likely the some of these 12,000 students held back one year will still not achieve proficiency. The question is whether to continue to deny them social promotion (for some, for how many years?). And I have not until now even mentioned the effects of ending social promotion on graduation rates, future academic performance, student behavior, and truancy and dropout rates.
Talk about waste, fraud, and abuse—this is it. Watch the positions and votes of your state senators and representatives on this one.
(I ask that those of you concerned about the Governor’s proposal forward this comment to your associates and others. Thank you.)