Sunday, January 16, 2005

Retention: repeating history

The New York Times > Education > Education Life > A Child Held Behind

Retention is popular again.
... The wisdom of retention, the policy of holding a child back to repeat the same grade, has long been debated. The battle -- between those who believe retention is damaging to children's psyches, social lives and attitudes about school, particularly in disadvantaged neighborhoods, and those who believe it is the best way to improve skills over the long haul -- has played out in waves over decades past. Periods in which retention grew popular are followed by times when it is not.
In the sciences, when we don't know what's right, we make testable predictions. Then we test them.

In the world of education, the habit is instead to repeat history. Retention one year, social advancement the next, make them disappear the next. Repeat.

Sigh. Equally bad is the approach to failing children. Just repeat again and again what didn't work before.

This is a truly discouraging article. The Chicago public school systems sounds like a real disaster. Children who repeat too often are dumped them into the "special education" program. Many of these kids should probably have been in a good special ed program to begin with, but what they get sounds like a desperate off ramp.

Meanwhile in Minnesota we're cutting state funding for special education, with no honest discussion of what funding should actually be.

There is some educational science out there. Not much, but it exists. Let's begin to use it. Let's not repeat failure ad nauseum.

Oh, and Chicago? Heck, do a trial of vouchers. It doesn't sound like they can get much worse. Just be sure to fund a bit of science as long as you're trying the vouchers.

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