Jeb Bush, in regard to class retention of children in school, one of his signature education reforms, said last week in response to criticism, “God forbid if little Johnny is stressed out. How horrible it is for their self-esteem if they’re held back.” Mr. Bush, who is probably running for president, said this at a “Keeping the Promise” meeting through the Foundation for Florida’s Future, Mr. Bush’s education policy group.
But consider that statement with this. Last May, David Smiley and Michael Vasquez reported in the Miami Herald, that due to the FCAT results in South Florida, 10,000 third graders were in danger of being held back. Thirty-three thousand students feared they could fail third grade throughout the State of Florida. Some of these students, as noted, probably got exceptions, but others failed.
Thirty three thousand kids who are stressed out and have low self-esteem, not to mention thousands of others who barely made it, and others who worry whether they will make it even though they will—how can that be a good thing?
A child who stresses and who has low self-esteem is more likely to grow up maladjusted and not do well in society. Retention, and the fear of it, is an awfully negative approach to teaching and learning. It can even lead to health problems.
Sadly, if Mr. Bush would Just Read about retention, he would learn that there is little, if any (I haven’t seen any), real research stating that retention works! Here are some negative effects of retention:
- Children who are retained do worse in school later on than their counterparts who are socially promoted.
- Children who repeat are at a greater risk for dropping out of school later on. This threat increases the older a child is when they are retained.
- Many children have behavior problems after they are retained.
- There is less likelihood that a retained student will wind up with steady employment.
- Retention is especially bad if the student has to repeat the same work they failed on to begin with.
Despite so much negative research surrounding the effectiveness of retention, it is the sacrosanct ideology of many education reformers, Mr. Bush is certainly not alone, that getting tough on children is the only way they will improve. Mayor Michael Bloomberg was a big advocate of retention too, and you see few politicians really speaking out against retention. Some parents like it! Why else are so many Americans buying into “rigor,” “grit,” and “no excuses?”
Put this together with school work that is growing increasingly more difficult and inappropriate for the grade level (kindergarten is the new first grade) it is no wonder that so many students feel stressed and experience low self-esteem.
Think how difficult it must be for a child when those whose opinion they value most insist they must learn the material when it doesn’t make sense. How do they fare when they don’t understand jumbled-up letters when trying to read, or they can’t write the way they are expected because of a learning disability.
Speaking of which, unfortunately, learning disabilities seem to now be considered passé in our public schools. Dyscalculia , dyslexia, and dysnomia are gone with the wind. If students don’t master 3rd grade, the idea is that you keep them there until they do. It is terribly simplistic and doesn’t work.
Certainly students should be challenged in school, but have you ever known a child who thrived on feeling like a failure?
I am not talking about giving inflated grades or handing out awards to children who never did anything to earn them. I am talking about looking at individual learning difficulties and addressing them realistically, without deflating a child’s self-confidence…without bringing stress into their lives. Often it involves adaptations.
It has been said that flunking (and that is what children call it) is one of three situations students fear most—along with losing a parent and going blind!
Instead of retention, there are other ways to help children without lowering their self-esteem or stressing them out. Here is an example of what could be done, and it would be less costly probably too.
- Lower class size in K-3rd grade. If policymakers don’t want to lower class size in every class, they should, at the very least, look at lowering class sizes in just K-3rd grade. One of the best studies ever done in education was Tennessee Project STAR which showed lowering K-3 class sizes as beneficial. That study should be revisited.
- Looping. Looping keeps young students with the same teacher for two years. The teacher can assist a student who works slower without making them stand out as failing in a repeat class.
- Multiage grouping. Multiage grouping can help younger children grow with older children. It is reminiscent of the one room schoolhouse. Here, it can be done with just a couple of grades.
- Resource Rooms. Children often fail in one weak area and that drags them down in general. A resource class where they get more individual assistance or remediation for their area of difficulty might help them boost their ability all around!
- Individualization. This is most important. Looking more closely at the strengths and weaknesses of all children, and providing interventions for the weak areas, would be a plus. Why not provide an individual plan for every child?
- Tutoring. Schools could provide tutoring by older students for service credit.
They say that Mr. Bush didn’t speak about Common Core at this recent education soirée. Perhaps he realizes CC isn’t so great. He should rethink retention too. He doesn’t have research to back it up either, and most parents don’t want it for their own children.
And what he said just didn’t sound nice at all.
I heard once that Mr. Bush, as Governor, would visit schools and tutor students. I thought that was pretty nice. Maybe he needs to get back to it and pay attention to children with real problems—their anxieties and stressors.
He could also spend some time Googling PROBLEMS WITH CLASS RETENTION—Shane Jimerson and others. The National Association of School Psychologists has this to say about it and they include additional alternatives to retention. See HERE.
In the end, what will probably unhinge the education reformers is that they don’t seem to get it. Parents really love their kids, and with the current education reforms, more and more students are being beaten down. That’s no way to learn. That’s no way to live.