The Social Promotion Scam and Its Consequences

by James A. Bacon

How widespread is social promotion in Virginia schools, and how deleterious are the consequences? Those are critical questions to ask as the Mo’ Money crowd beats the drums for more state support for K-12 education, more programs to address social “inequity,” and a slew of other initiatives all premised upon the idea that the way to improve educational outcomes is to do more of what isn’t working.

Over at Cranky’s Blog, John Butcher provides valuable perspective on the social-promotion issue. He has juxtaposed two data sets: the percentage of public-school students who fail their SOLs, thus indicating a failure to master the subject matter, and the number who are held back to repeat a grade.

As can be seen in the graph above, there is a vast and yawning gap in English reading. Virginia 3rd graders fail their English SOLs at the rate of 27.6% but only 0.57% are held back — a gap of 26%. The gap becomes a chasm by high school. Social promotion is far more widespread than I ever imagined. 

The drawback of social promotion is obvious: If a student fails to master 5th grade math, for instance, advancing him to the next grade just increases the odds that he will fail to master 6th grade math. To the contrary, he likely will fall further behind, becoming more frustrated and alienated with each passing grade. I would hypothesize that socially promoted students are far more likely to disrupt classes and far more likely to drop out of school. Furthermore, social promotion may not even do the one thing it is designed to do: save the student from the social stigma of failure. An inability to master academic material year after year is not likely to improve one’s self-esteem.

Cranky demonstrates that the gap between SOL pass rates and repeated grades applies also to writing and, as seen below, math.

I’m not suggesting that every kid who fails to pass an SOL exam should be held back. Maybe the kid was just having a bad day when he took the test. Maybe the exam results were at odds with his math grades. Maybe he fell short of passing by just a hair. Maybe he’s been showing improvement, even if he fell short in the test. Maybe he passed all his other subjects, and holding him back a grade for failing just one subject seems like overkill. I get it — a lot more than test results should go into the decision whether or not to hold back a student a full year.

But let’s postulate for purposes of argument that half the kids who fail to pass their SOLs are not held back but should be. That would imply anywhere between 10% and 15% of Virginia students are being socially promoted. Absolutely no one in the Virginia educational establishment, to my knowledge is grappling with this issue. Social promotion is untouchable. Instead, progressives in the educational establishment blame racism, discrimination and insufficient funding for the persistent racial differences in SOL test scores.

The progressives’ answer is twofold. First, mo’ money. The answer is always mo’ money for more teachers, pay increases for teachers, more support staff, more administrators, and newer buildings. The failure to deliver mo’ money is construed as a perpetuation of racism and discrimination. The other answer is to paper over the malignant effects of social promotion with “social equity” policies, the most recent iteration of which is to implement a “restorative justice” approach to discipline. So, when socially promoted kids “act out” in class, traditional sanctions such as in-school and out-of-school suspensions are applied only as a last resort. As a consequence, more classrooms are disrupted, teachers are distracted more often, and other students spend less time learning.

When the Virginia Board of Education is telling us we need to boost K-12 spending by $950 million a year to carry out its “progressive” vision of education, it’s time to question underlying assumptions and sacrosanct practices. It’s time to talk about social promotion.

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23 responses to “The Social Promotion Scam and Its Consequences”

  1. djrippert Avatar

    You write about Virginia’s schools as if they were homogeneous across the state. I doubt that’s true. We’ve seen success in West Point as that school system walled itself off from the rest of the county. Smart. We’ve seen Richmond schools with disparate results along with the liberals’ plan to use busing to equalize the misery index across all schools. Stupid. What we really need is a longitudinal study of public and private K-12 schools across Virginia. For example, private schools should be forced to administer the same SOLs as public schools if they want to be accredited.

    So, why doesn’t this happen?

    Money. BigEd pumps money through unlimited campaign contributions into our state politicians’ pockets. BigEd doesn’t want facts. BigEd only wants one thing – mo’ money for BigEd.

    As long as Virginia allows unlimited campaign contributions to state politicians and maintains a strict implementation of Dillon’s Rule all is lost.

    You have to treat the disease, not the symptoms. The diseases are our General Assembly and broken state constitution.

  2. Cranky strikes again! I will be sending this and his info out to them. Da man!

  3. Jane Twitmyer Avatar
    Jane Twitmyer

    “I get it — a lot more than test results should go into the decision whether or not to hold back a student a full year.”

    You have made a good case for holding back some number of kids whose performance is below grade. I don’t know that an inability to ‘keep up’ in class makes them disruptive, but school sure can’t be a happy place for them. And I agree that grade retention become an unacceptable decision for teachers to make. It does sound like it is “time to talk about social promotion,” but I believe many of these kids need more than just a grade repeat.

    Too many ‘repeaters’ drive up costs in a different way. In NY it actually resulted in cuts to all special programs, including those for underperforming kids. The decision to repeat is complicated by the fact that under-performing kids need different approaches. Kids with disabilities can’t survive without specialized support, while kids that are able to learn in a regular classroom, but just arrived in school without the requisite skills, can benefit from the extra year in the same grade.

    It should be noted that once the child reaches a grade level where the classes are taught by specialist teachers, or if the school, and the teachers, are equipped to do more individualized instruction, then repeating isn’t necessary. The school system in CT, where I served on the Board in the late 70’s, was led by people in the community who were connected with Columbia School of Ed. Individualized instruction was the flavor of the decade and it works but is difficult to do. It also works for those kids who are working above grade, and who in the old days were jumped a grade, or even 2, forward. My father graduated from high school at 16 … which was not really a good thing.

    In 2015, 40% of VA’s public school students were economically disadvantaged and 8.600 were actually homeless. Like it or not these kids need extra help. There was a pilot program in VA in 2015. Called FastForWord, the results were striking. In 4 months, Title 1 kids in K-3 progressed an average 6+ months in reading level, and kids in levels 4-8 a full year after 4 months in the program. Where the program stands now I do not know, except that a search online turned up a FastForWord program being offered by VA Community Colleges as a way into a job or more college. If it worked for kids, why isn’t in schools today? Why is it offered as a $3,000 private program?

    1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

      At least in Fairfax County, kids from low-income families get extra help — a lot of extra help. Besides Title 1 money and similar money from the state, Fairfax County adds additional money. And they allocate it based on where kids are going to school, so a smaller number of low-income kids at a non-Title 1 school gets extra resources based on the number of kids. These kids get extra math and reading teachers and their class sizes are below not only the county average but also well below so-called “rich kid” schools. At some point, parents and their kids, who have had access to extra resources, must take responsibility for their own decisions and behavior.

      I know that teaching phonics helps a lot of kids learn to read. I don’t know whether there is still an effort not to teach phonics but there was. If this “FastForWord” program works, it should replace programs that aren’t working. Why don’t administrators have the stones to lay off people who aren’t needed and hire those that are? And why don’t school boards fire administrators that aren’t using tools that work?

      I went to school with kids who were held back in very early grades. Some were in my class despite being older and some were in the class behind despite being the same age. I don’t recall these kids causing a lot of trouble.

  4. LarrytheG Avatar

    In terms of private schools and SOLs – you don’t need to get them from the VDOE – they are essentially available from the private sector if those schools really want to show their academic performance.

    But they would also need to show the demographics of their students.

    I’m not at all impressed with the ” oh look, here is another problem with public schools” narrative from Cranky and others. What does it prove?

    So – let the private schools compete – but hold them accountable for the same demorgraphic that is bedevilling the public school system which is kids of parents who are under-educated themselves and pretty much stuck in low-paying jobs and poverty and have almost no good influence on their kids to value education.

    It’s too late by high school. My bet is that private schools want none of this because they KNOW these kids are not easy to teach.

    The problem with the public schools as DJ identified is that too many schools and school districts will not pay more for highly qualified teachers who do get results. Not only do most get the same pay – but those teachers want no part of any job teaching these kids because when the SOLs come in – someone in the school system is going to pay the price and humans being humans – they’ll push it down to the teachers. So good teachers that have options as to where to work – will not take the hard jobs and those jobs fall to the entry-level and poor performing teachers.

    Mo Money won’t fix it unless high quality teachers with proven effectiveness are paid more and treated fairly when they have a tough class and results are not stellar.

    I’ve said it before and will say it again – I have no problems with private schools competing with the public schools but it’s got to be on an apple-to-apple basis in terms of the demographics of the students.

    Now IF Cranky wants to really do good – how about comparing the high school dropout/social promotion problem on a demographic basis so we can see what those rates are for kids of educated parents and what those rates are for kids with under-educated parents.

    What’s the entire premise of Jim B’s posts on this issue anyhow? What is he actually trying to show? It’s not like public-schools everywhere fail at this – some do good – but a good number do fail. Should we want to know why as opposed to the non-stop finger pointing that some love to do?

  5. wonderbread Avatar

    Discipline is actually a major reason FOR social promotion, particularly for physically larger/fall birth students. Having a kid who’s a year or more older and physically/socially dominant over the class can create major problems for the class they’re moved into. There are obviously situations where it’s good for the student as well, but holding back students is an extremely complicated decision which staff put a lot of care into.

  6. If you correct for demographics, all Virginia schools do equally well in average SAT’s and SOL’s. That implies that teachers everywhere are equally good (on average). That’s not surprising because they were all taught the same teaching methods and know how to follow the prescribed curriculum. How math and English are taught must change (e.g., skip set theory, math visualization, and whole-word reading). Class composition must change (e.g., group by performance). The changes should be evaluated at a few schools and implemented elsewhere if successful.
    The money-go-round, with politicians paying more to get educations vote, can be stopped if voters would stop being so gullible, overly influenced by propaganda.

    1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

      I remember way, way back in grade school (1st and 2nd grades), our class was broken into three groups for reading instruction based on skills. And as things changed, children were moved from one group to another. While the teacher was working with one group, the others would read aloud to each other in turn. And now with teacher aides and special reading teachers, I suspect a lot more progress could be made.

  7. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    For his new book How The Other Half Learns: Equality, Excellence, And The Battle Over School Choice (Avery, 2019, $27, 384 pages), by Robert Pondiscio spent a year closely observing Success Academy Bronx 1.

    “At the end of the school day, Syskowski and Matt Carnaghi empty their classrooms of their kindergarten-size chairs and arrange them in three rows in the open area adjacent to Liz Vandlik’s office. The children are held for dismissal, forcing parents to come upstairs and listen to the teachers before picking them up. At 3:45 p.m. sharp, Syskowski launches in. “The reason we’re having a meeting together is because there’s a lot of work to be done. We need to come together as a Bronx 1 community and figure out what’s going on and set goals.” She scans the thirty adults seated before her in chairs meant for five-year-olds. “As you can see, right now we have a meeting for ninety children and this is the parent turnout. It’s not good.”

    Syskowski walks them through the reading benchmarks for kindergarten. “It’s January. A number of our children are still Level A or pre-A, which means they don’t know how to read.” The kindergarteners will be tested again in February, by which time they’re all expected to be at Level C. If the point is lost, Syskowski lays it out plainly. If their children are not at Level C by the end of February, they are unlikely to reach Level D by the end of the school year. “If they do not reach D, they do not go to first grade,” she says, “Do not. Period.” She pauses to let the message sink in, then repeats it. “They will not go to first grade if they’re not a Level D. That has been said before, and I’m just restating it.”

    Now that she has the parents’ full attention, Syskowski pivots from reading levels to school culture and expectations—for adults. “A lot of you are brand new to Success Academy. We know it’s a new world,” she tells them. “We want you to ask questions. We know what we teach here is a little different. It’s different than the way you learned and the way we learned. We received a lot of training and we know this is the best way that children learn. If there are things that you need, you need to ask. So, this is us reaching out, having that parent meeting and saying, ‘Here we are. This is our space. And we need to talk because we’re not meeting benchmarks.’”

    The benchmarks Syskowski is referring to are not only the reading-level chart in her classroom but achievement levels of the kindergarteners relative to dozens of other Success Academy schools. “Other schools within our network over in Brooklyn, in Manhattan and Queens, their children are reading at benchmarks,” she says pointedly. “All of us in this room are not doing enough for our kids. The children in Brooklyn and Queens and Manhattan can do it, and our kids can’t, even though we all have the same curriculum, we all have the same training.”

    There are no secrets in a Success Academy school. Classrooms and hallway “data walls” leave little to no doubt which children—by name—are at, above, or below academic standards. This can be off-putting to some parents and has been attacked by critics outside the network. On the other hand, it is the rare student in any school who isn’t aware of who the standouts and strugglers are in class. Success Academy puts it on the wall for all to see. Syskowski begins to spin a sobering tale of the trajectory children can find themselves on in the absence of energetic efforts. “First grade is a huuuuge literacy year,” she says. “If we don’t set them up in kindergarten, they will drown.” The parents sit silently. “We need to step it up.”

    Carnaghi has been standing alongside Syskowski, nodding stoically. He introduces himself as a “first-year LT,” or lead teacher, then adds almost apologetically, “I’m pretty resourceful and here for you guys.” But it’s Syskowski’s intervention, and she’s just getting started. Her tone is unfailingly warm and encouraging—she wants to win the parents over and make common cause, not alienate or antagonize them—but her words are unsparing. Standing behind the rows, I cannot see all the parents’ faces, but most appear to be nodding along. If there’s discontent with Syskowski’s brand of tough love, there’s no sign of it. “If your children are late or they’re not here, we can’t teach them,” she says. “We really need you to get your children here by 7:45 if not 7:30.” The first moments of each day, kindergarteners have breakfast with their class, and teachers do a “re-teach,” working with individual children on skills in which they’ve fallen behind. “If they are not here on time or not here at all, we can’t do that,” she says. “We have some children in this grade who’ve already been absent eleven times. Anytime I’m sick, I come here. I can’t afford to lose that day with your children. At the same time, your child cannot miss that day with any of us. We’re here, we need to be here, we want to be here, and every second is really . . .”

    A toddler starts crying loudly, drowning her out, and without breaking pace, Syskowski orders the toddler’s sister, Rama B., one of her students with a serious, almost adult face, to take her into a nearby classroom. Syskowski is rolling now and doesn’t want to lose her audience, which now fills all the chairs and spills down the hall. “You want your child to go to college. You sent them here to a college-bound school. Our philosophy is that every single child goes to college and it starts when they’re five. I know that you want that for them, because that’s why you brought them to Success Academy. At the same time, it’s a daily grind. You need to put that work in to get them there.”

    Syskowski asks for a show of hands. “Whose child is reading at a Level A right now?” A few hands go up. If the parents are aware of their child’s reading level, many more hands should be in the air. Carnaghi scans the room and jumps in. “There’s one,” he points and calls out. “Two. Anyone else? There are plenty here.” It is impossible to tell if the parents don’t know, don’t want to reveal that their child is below benchmarks, or are feeling called out and embarrassed. “We want to get it out there. You’re not alone!” Syskowski implores, trying to encourage more parents to own up and join in.

    “Level B?” More hands go up. “There’s three, four, five,” Carnaghi counts off. By the time she gets to Level D, only one hand is up. “So that means out of everyone here, we have one child who is ready for first grade,” Syskowski says, growing quiet. “We’re a community of parents. Use each other to help each other. I know you guys have daily struggles as parents. I’m not a parent, so I don’t know that struggle. I know that struggle as a classroom teacher when I’m with your scholar and really pushing them, and they’re like, ‘Ms. Syskowski, this is hard,’” she says plaintively. “And yeah, it’s hard.”

    Syskowski’s urgency is not misplaced. By January, the children should be learning to read. Midway through kindergarten, they should recognize and be able to name and write upper- and lowercase letters. They are acquiring those “print concepts,” such as understanding the basic structures of a book and that text moves from left to right, even if they are not fully able to decode the printed word. Five-year-olds are also developing phonological awareness, such as recognizing syllables, rhymes, and “phonemes,” the forty-four units of sound that make up every word in the English language. An essential literacy building block at this age is beginning “sound-symbol relationships” and the ability to read consonant-vowel-consonant words like “cat” and “dog.” Syskowski and her colleagues do not expect parents to be surrogate reading teachers or to have a nuanced understanding of these skills or progressions. But they nonetheless put a heavy lift on parents to read nightly with their children and to monitor and ensure that they are reading at home—something affluent parents tend to do reflexively, often without even knowing why.

    “We’re seeing two really big issues,” Syskowski says. “Your reading logs still have your scholars’ books on them. They can read those books by themselves. Those are not the books that go on the reading logs,” she instructs. The reading logs are for books that parents read aloud. Very young children can understand even sophisticated texts when they are read aloud, which, research indicates, helps them develop as readers by exposing them to new vocabulary and allowing them to hear mature readers’ fluent pronunciation and expression. Kindergarteners should also spend twenty minutes reading independently at home each night. “That doesn’t mean they read on their own, you go do laundry. It. Is. Challenging. I hear you. We need that patience and excitement to tell them, ‘You know what? You are a great reader, and you can do this.”

    Carnaghi has been largely silent, but now it’s his turn to take the lead. Reading logs must be completed 100 percent of the time. “If we look cross grade right now? Ninety percent. Ninety-two percent. Eighty-six percent,” he says, indicating the compliance rate in each of the kindergarten classrooms. “It’s not getting done.” If any other elementary schools in the neighborhood asked parents to maintain reading logs, 90 percent compliance would be a cause for celebration. Here it’s a crisis. “The reason we’re so on you about these reading logs is because it sets up routines, right?” he continues. “These routines help build up memory skills, problem-solving skills. These are all cognitive skills. If you’re not at home constantly building those, your child will not be successful.” There is a long pause as Carnaghi and the parents stare at one another. “Really cold, hard fact. You really need to listen. You need to hear it. Like hear it.”

    This is one of the first times I’ve seen Carnaghi “on.” While few restrictions have been placed on my observations, Vandlik asked early in the school year that I “give Mr. Carnaghi some room.” As a new teacher who expected to be an associate, not lead, teacher, it seemed an undue burden to be under an outsider’s microscope, unhelpful to him and a distraction to his students. As a result, I’ve barely set foot in his classroom. Like so many of his colleagues, he radiates earnestness, even as he tries to play bad cop to Syskowski’s good. “One in six children in our community who are not proficient readers, by third grade—forget about college. They’re going to have a really hard time passing high school,” he says.

    It’s suddenly hard to hear over the delighted squeals of kindergarteners playing in the classroom behind me, unaware of the high-stakes conversation we are having about them. But the grim urgency Carnaghi is trying to communicate is not misplaced. Failure starts early in communities like Mott Haven. Nearly 90 percent of U.S. first graders who struggle in reading are still struggling in fourth grade; three out of four third-grade readers who are below grade level are still below grade level in ninth grade; and one in six children who are not reading proficiently in third grade do not graduate from high school on time—a failure rate four times greater than among proficient readers. If the ninety-odd kindergarteners of Bronx 1 steer clear of this grim vortex of failure that has been all but inevitable for children in this community for generations, it will be in no small part due to what Syskowski, Carnaghi, and the rest of the kindergarten teachers are doing this year—aided and abetted by fully engaged parents.

    “I assume right now that every single parent in this room knows exactly how to teach that kid because nobody comes up to me and asks me, ‘What can I do? How can I help my child? Is there anything else I can do?’” Carnaghi is making demands, almost hectoring, but his tone is plaintive, nearly pleading. “We’re here for your kids. But you’re not showing us that you’re here for your kids right now, because these routines are not getting set up. If you need to know what to do, raise your hand now.”

    Syskowski takes up the call. “Any question at all!”

    Now there are lots of hands. Parents ask about how to handle behavior problems at home. One says she has a hard time getting her child to focus. Another mother expresses frustration at how poorly her child is performing on sight-word quizzes. “When he’s in the house, he does the work perfectly fine. But when he comes here, I guess he gets a little bit scared. Whenever we do words in the house—‘they,’ ‘were,’ ‘was’—he does it perfect. When he gets here, he usually gets one right or two right. Sometimes he gets all three right. So, I’m a little bit . . .” She trails off.

    “Think about environment, right?” Carnaghi replies. “At home, your child is in such a relaxed environment. Do you time him?” Mom says no. “Start timing him. Get him used to timing in both environments. When he’s at home, he gets all the time in the world, he’s relaxed. That’s not a problem. But if you really want to see something different, put on a timer.” In other school settings, the suggestion that parents time their children, conduct weekly tests of sight words at home, or be forced to sit and listen to their child’s teacher lecturing them that they’re not living up to their parental responsibilities would cause an insurrection. But none of the parents raise an eyebrow, whether out of deference, intimidation, a shared sense of urgency, a reluctance to make waves, or some combination of these factors. Carnaghi adds, “Being timed makes anybody anxious, right?” He turns to the crowd. “Silent thumbs-up if that’s what makes it anxious for you?” and many turn their thumbs up while several chuckle audibly. “It’s not easy!”

    “We have an open-door policy here,” Syskowski reminds them, returning to her main theme. “Tell us the time you’re scheduled to be off from work. Tell us the time you want to come in. Schedule some time. Please!”

    Syskowski calls on a mother who is having trouble keeping her child’s frustrations in check. “Nyelle has that same problem. If she doesn’t know a word like ‘what,’ she actually gets angry. She cries and then we have to end it,” she explains. “I feel like she’s a little behind. I know she’s got a C, but I feel like she should already be at D. But the last, maybe, two weeks, we had to shut down early because she gets so emotional.” Syskowski senses a teachable moment. “You said something really awesome I wanted to get out in the open. Nyelle is very much a high-flier in my class. It’s very hard for me to challenge her, because she gets it in a snap,” she explains, pointing at the mother, but directing her comments to the whole group. “Right now, Nyelle’s mom is saying she’s really not doing her best. Yes, a C is past where we need to be right now, but knowing your child and saying, ‘That’s not good enough,’ keeps that bar high. Yes, it is going to be frustrating, and we will give you strategies to handle that frustration. They totally get frustrated here.”

    “We had a visitor in our class today, and he was like, ‘That’s the first time I saw tears’ today,’” Syskowski adds, and I realize she’s talking about me. She tells the parents what happened with the little boy who won’t be going to blocks tomorrow. “That was really tough for him to hear. At the same time, did I say, ‘It’s OK if you don’t finish your book review?’” Now it’s Syskowski who starts to tear up. “No. It’s not OK. Because why would I let him fail when other kids are surpassing it and they’ll go to first grade? You would not want me as your child’s classroom teacher. You would not want Mr. Carnaghi or Ms. Skinner to be your child’s teacher if we were like, ‘You know what? You’re right. It is really hard. Let’s just let them be a B.’” How about if they get two out of the four sight words correct? ‘That’s good enough.’ Where are they going to be in thirteen years? Then we won’t talk about college. And that’s something that . . .” Syskowski lowers her gaze to the floor. “I get chills. That’s something that’s really hard for me to . . .”

    Syskowski doesn’t finish the thought. She can’t. She’s crying. “I do get emotional. Because your children are amazing. They are absolutely amazing. I try to . . .” She quickly gathers herself. “We will never lower that bar because it’s too hard. We will figure out other paths to get to the destination.” She hammers every word—“Other. Paths. To get to the destination.” She adds, “We will not lower it.”

    Syskowski is spent. The meeting breaks up with a smattering of applause from the parents, who pull on their coats, collect their kids, and begin to melt away down the hallway. Vandlik emerges from her office and shoots me a smile as she heads down the hall toward the main office. It’s the biggest tell of the afternoon. In most schools, this kind of whole-grade, all-hands-on-deck meeting would be a major event. At Bronx 1, the principal didn’t even participate.” End Quote.

    For more of this new very fine book on how a serious and so highly successful school for mostly all disadvantaged kids in the Bronx teaches kids extraordinary learning and success, please read How The Other Half Learns: Equality, Excellence, And The Battle Over School Choice (Avery, 2019, $27, 384 pages), by Robert Pondiscio.

    Note that at end of 2018-2019 school year, the students at Success Academy Bronx 1, 100% percent black or Hispanic and 84% economically disadvantaged, and all chosen by lottery, earned proficiency rates of 89.9% in English Language Arts and 98% in Math. Of these, 41% scored at the highest level in English Language Arts , as did 83% in Math. Thus these kids exceeded the performance of two of New York State’s highest preforming schools, Scarsdale and Bronxville where no students are disadvantaged and most are from highly affluent families.

    In addition also see 2015 article “What Explains Success at Success Academy” wherein, among many things, one finds:

    “Elementary students complete two “project-based learning” units in each grade, where students read and write about a particular subject for six weeks. In 4th grade, for example, children learn about the American Revolution. This year, Success is piloting two additional two-week “mini Core Knowledge” project-based learning units. “We love [Core Knowledge founder] E. D. Hirsch,” says Michele Caracappa, Success’s director of literacy.

    In middle school, Success adds independent reading time and includes a literature class. Students receive iPads loaded with books. Middle-school students must read seven key texts, typically comprising four novels, two nonfiction books, and one of poetry. (I saw middle-school students in Harlem reading The Block, which combines poetry of Langston Hughes with paintings of Harlem Renaissance artist Romare Bearden.)

    Writing skills are emphasized in daily workshops from kindergarten through 8th grade. In later grades, students produce longer pieces across several genres, going through the entire writing process. Much focus is on revision; teachers are trained to give targeted feedback.

    Success’s children’s literature expert, Sara Yu, fills the schools with rich, engaging books at all levels. Yu worked for many years at the highly regarded bookstore affiliated with the Bank Street College of Education. She notes that the books aren’t selected only to produce competent readers, but also to expose children to “relevant, important, beautiful material … diverse cultures, economic backgrounds, settings, and characters.”

    This devotion to content pays off. At the Success Academy in Bedford-Stuyvesant (one block from the Marcy Houses, the public housing complex where Jay Z grew up—still a tough neighborhood), 81 percent of 3rd graders were proficient in ELA last year (98 percent in math!). A 4th-grade English class dissects How My Parents Learned to Eat, the story of an American sailor learning to use chopsticks to impress his Japanese girlfriend. …” End Quote.


    1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      My stream of house guests will depart tomorrow. This frees me up at last for more time to devote to these education issues that now plague Virginia’s students, and the threat posed by this awful nearly $billion proposal that will not fix the problems inflicted on Virginia’s disadvantaged kids, but instead will further institutionalize those problems within Virginia’s corrupt system of education. This result will further enrich those within the system whose policies and performance have been acerbating these problem plaguing these disadvantaged kids now since 1970 at least. Only a corrupt system would hand nearly a $Billion to the very same crew of pirates who caused the problem in the first place. Amazing!!!

      For now, let me say this about Cranky’s charts illustrated in the above post. In schools filled with preponderance of disadvantaged kids, these charts greatly understate the problem. The percentage of failings kids promoted to the next grade in those schools is far higher than the averages shown in the charts. Promotions here impose horrible consequences on these kids, and on all the kids in those schools. Such promotions greatly compound the disadvantages of failing kids, making their recovery to grade level much harder to achieve, putting their chances of success ever further on of reach. This kills kids futures.

      Think about the real world, as opposed to the imaginary world that the Virginia board of education lives in and sells daily to gullible parents and taxpayers. For example:

      Just image a baseball player who comes into professional baseball at the bottom, that is at the minor league’s Class A. And imagine that here, after his first year, he has failed to play at that level, much less raise above that level, but instead of being kept at that level until he masters it, he is promoted to the next higher and more difficult level Class A advanced. He he plainly lacks the skills to succeed there so will fall even further behind, if not drown altogether, without enormous outside help and support. Likely, though now, he really flounders, as his confidence shattered. But incredibly nevertheless, the next year he is promoted to Double A league where almost surely he drowns a second time, only to be then promoted the next year to Triple A league, and then amazingly the next year he’s promoted into the Major leagues.

      What happens here most always. The player is ruined professionally, and has been ruined for years, and dropped out of learning years ago, a zombie baseball player whose confidence and abilities were long ago shattered. That is what is happening in most of these schools today in Virginia. And the great harm being done is not only to the kids who have been failing for years, a fact hidden by the system but to no one in it really, but these failures now fill entire classrooms, poisoning them, bringing down every kid there chances to learn up to their abilities and talents. Thus we have under this system zombie schools.

      But it is even worse. Cranky’s Charts do not include kids who have formerly dropped out of the system altogether, those who now longer attend school at all, much less sit there for years learning nothing. For example, I recall Cranky’s Blog shows an additional 20% dropout rate in Richmond city after the 9th grade for example.

      So here in these Virginia schools, the education of kids is by and large a total sham.

  8. Jane Twitmyer Avatar
    Jane Twitmyer

    Just 2 short comments … Do parents choose to enroll their kids in ‘Success’ Academy? That makes a difference in meeting the teachers at home expectations.
    And how in the world can the teacher complain that there are only 30/90 parents there in the middle of the day? Could they not be there cause they are at work?

    1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      Success Academy runs 47 schools with a total of 17,000 students from K through 12 as of year 2018/2019.

      In 2018 / 2019 academic year, Success Academy had some 17,700 applicants for 3,288 available seats. Thus some 14,000 families were said to be wait listed after all the available seats were filled by lottery.

      In New York City, 47% of public school kids passed State reading tests while 43% percent passed state math tests. This compares to Success Academy where 91% of its students passed reading tests, and 98% passed math tests. The kids achieving these scores at the Success Academies comprised 95% of all kids of color with median family income of $32,ooo annually.

      The Success Academy only takes applications for new kids who are entering below and up to 4th grade.

  9. Jane Twitmyer Avatar
    Jane Twitmyer

    You have more than proved the point that kids with parents who care about their kids education have a very good shot at success. While those stats are impressive, the issue remains … how does the public assure that all kids have a shot at success? These kids at Success Academy are self-selected from the population of low-income parents.

    AND given the income facts … what about the teacher expecting parents to get to an afternoon meeting?

  10. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd


    Stop and smell the roses along the way, think deeply about lessons the roses tell, how they blossom and bloom over time, sharing themselves near and far. This is an exercise of spirit, not debate and mechanics. It’s best now to relax, think and appreciate a while on what others have created for the benefit of all of us if we will only pause and take the time ourselves to see, and feel, and learn, and finally understand the gift before us.

  11. Jane Twitmyer Avatar
    Jane Twitmyer

    We are talking about the best way for public education, paid for by the community, to serve all it’s students as well as it can, especially those that are behind.
    Your response to me is patronizing, pretentious, and frankly offensive.

  12. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    It’s funny how the world works. I found your comment to be offensive, flip, offhand, and insulting to people doing monumental work with lessons for us galore if we give them the minimum of respect they deserve, but that you instead breeze through without a thought in your head. What a gross lack of respect and maturity and thoughtfulness on your part. Oh, what the heck, it’s only children at stake.

    Of course, we have been there before with your wild comments on and claims for green energy so it should be no surprise.

  13. Jane and Reed, please call a truce on the personal invective. If you want to continue the exchange off-line, I will provide you each others’ email addresses. Thanks.

  14. Jane Twitmyer Avatar
    Jane Twitmyer

    I do not wish to know Reed’s email. Sorry

  15. LarrytheG Avatar

    Yes, agree, HOWEVER, like a lot of students with various needs different from the general – there are and ought to be programs for them. If we can do special ed and gifted programs – we can do programs for these kids that have gotten “too big” for normal class programs. If the military can take kids like this and turn them into disciplined and productive citizens, schools can do something similar and should. Not without failures, not even the military produces at a 100% success rate – but the idea that we have nothing for these kids, and we just turn them loose in a condition where they are not fit to integrate into society and workforce is not enough. No one said that “education” was just manufacturing widgets without “hands-on” work no more or less that the military does that with new recruits. We have problems/issues/challenges, but they are not insurmountable and the “failure” and “blame” mentality is an excuse for sloth and neglect.

    1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      Very well stated, Larry. Right on target too.

      1. Jane Twitmyer Avatar
        Jane Twitmyer

        Reed, I assume that the Charter School structure is something we disagree on. Success Academy is a Charter School. “A charter school is a school that receives government funding but operates independently of the established state school system in which it is located. Charter schools are an example of public asset privatization.” (Wiki)

        “There is ongoing debate on whether charter schools ought to be described as private schools or state schools. Advocates of the charter model state that they are public schools because they are open to all students and do not charge tuition, while critics cite charter schools’ private operation and loose regulations regarding public accountability and labor issues as arguments against the concept.”

        My argument with Charter Schools, as someone who served on a public school board, is that, by definition, they use public monies to only serve only those children whose parents are engaged in their child’s success, a fact that dramatically increases the ratio of success. They serve the cream of the crop, leaving behind all those children with no parental support, kids that require extensive support within the school system, where it’s necessary to find the monies to meet their special needs.

        1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
          Reed Fawell 3rd

          Thank you for that comment. I will try to deal with it over time here and elsewhere too.

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