Volume 15, Number 1
Retention vs. Social Promotion
Schools Search for Alternatives
Earlier this year, President Clinton announced that it was time to end social promotion—the practice of promoting students to the next grade regardless of their academic progress. Since then, it has become clear that educators and legislators are listening. California, Delaware, South Carolina, and Wisconsin have all passed laws forbidding the practice, and, in effect, requiring schools to reinstate retention.This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article. Click here to become a subscriber.
This is the latest chapter in a decades-long struggle to address the problem of the failing student. On the one hand, teachers don't want to see a 15-year-old sitting in a 7th-grade classroom. On the other, they don't want to pass a student who is clearly failing. As a result, the pendulum between retention and promotion continues to swing wildly.
"It follows a seven- or eight-year cycle," says retention researcher Lorrie Shepard, a professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder. "Right now, politicians are seeing retention as the remedy. Once they feel the negative side effects, they'll back off."