To protect children's self-esteem or deflect complaints by parents, many public schools today automatically advance failing students to the next grade level. In other schools, some students are left back a maximum of one year, then promoted again regardless of their academic skills.
The No Child Left Behind Act tries to solve this problem. The federal government is pressuring public schools to set minimum standards that each student must pass before advancing to the next grade.
However, in spite of these new laws, many states still have semi-automatic incentives based on the student's overall per-formance. Many schools consider a student's "portfolio" of work, attendance record, or other mitigating factors. Based on these factors, the school may advance students to the next grade, even though they do poorly on their tests or read at a previous grade level.
For example, a dedicated California 7th-grade math teacher wrote to Dr. Laura Schlessinger, radio talk-show host, about this problem. She said that about 30 percent of her students did not do their daily homework assignments, but she could do nothing about this. That is because the California Education code forbids teachers from "punishing" students for failing to do their homework.
She also said that students are "not retained" if they fail one class or fail all their classes. "Not retained" is a polite way of saying not left back.
Students may not want to do their homework because it bores them to death, but these kids are smart anyhow. Why should they bother doing homework or studying hard if they advance to the next grade no matter how bad they do in class? That would be dumb, and these kids are not dumb.
When students who should be failing automatically advance to the next grade from elementary school through high school, the problem keeps getting worse. By graduation day, some students who graduate can barely read their own diplomas. In effect, these students get a counterfeit diploma that is nothing more than a twelve-year attendance record.
What does automatic promotion teach children? Many students tend to set their standards no higher than what their teachers or school expects of them. Automatic promotion lets students coast along with little or no effort, knowing they will advance to the next grade even if they never study or do their homework, or receive low grades on their tests. Automatic promotion also tells kids that they can succeed in life without effort or perseverance.
Beside creating millions of graduating illiterates, automatic promotion tells children that mediocrity and laziness are acceptable. It tragicly sets children up to fail later in life when reality smacks them in the face – when they apply for college or a job. These are not lessons that schools should be teaching our children.
Parents can avoid this problem by taking their children out of public school and taking advantage of the great education options Joel Turtel describes in his book, "Public Schools, Public Menace."