Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Progressive Ed Reform: Why Have Grades?

The NY Times has an article (Holding Back Young Students: Is it a Gift or a Stigma?) that touches on the issue of holding kids back and then tracking the holdovers into a segregated class in order to close the gap. "Oh the stigma of tracking" say some parents and educators.

I spent my entire career in a tracked system and could make a case for it - if the classes in most need get lower class size and real services. Sometimes that happened, but not in a rational way that made a big difference.

On the other hand, the one somewhat heterogeneous class I taught did seem to push the bottom kids up, though they were just 1/4 of the class. If it were reversed, that wouldn't have happened.

The Times reports that in Spring Valley they are holding back first graders but keeping the holdovers together and giving them intensive services:

Iraida Hada, the principal of Hempstead Elementary, said that merely holding back students without a special program to address their needs would not have been as effective.“How are we going to make it work the second time around, if it didn’t work the first time?”

The numbers they report make is seem that it worked, though there's enough research to suggest that both tracking and holding kids over does not work.

What I have never understood pretty much since I started teaching was why the idea of putting kids in a grade is so important, especially in elementary school. I know all about the problems with abolishing this age-old system, but why not try it in some schools? Mix various grades together in a one room schoolhouse type system, but with multiple teachers and teaching assistants. In that way there's little consciousness of holdovers or tracking. Kids move on when they are ready.

Sorry, I forgot. This might cost some money and as we know the regressive ed reformers want to spend it all on merit pay (gee, how would you figure that out in this system?) and other phony reforms.

With total control of the school system, the kinds of reforms the BloomKlein team could have installed that would really impact in a positive way on kids and teachers, somehow fell through the crack.


  1. That's a really good question--if it didn't work once, why should it work again? It's also a great idea to group these kids with other who have similar problems, rather than dumping them into a group of kids a year younger than they are and hoping they figure it out the second time around.

  2. I bet the teachers used the Workshop Model. That is why the kids did not learn. Maybe Columbia University can teach these kids. They are the experts.


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