History Repeating Itself: Social Promotion Making a Comeback

Nothing truly goes out of style due to the fact that history often repeats itself, and the continuous admonishment and reemergence of social promotion within education is a prime example of this notion. The previous blog post highlighted how the practice of promoting students to the next grade level despite their failure to meet the expected competencies contributes to enduring effects on individuals’ future employment and/or educational pursuits. This post will take a closer look at this practice known as “social promotion,” which is the opposite of grade retention – requiring a student to repeat a grade level in order to achieve the expected competencies and requirements.

Although the idea of social promotion was instituted in the 1930s, it became widely popular throughout the 1970s as a result of the education reform of the time. However, as concerns arose over the seeming lack of enforcement of academic standards, many states and cities began to legally ban the practice. In fact, social promotion was banned by the mayor of New York City twice, once in 1999 and again in 2004. The life cycle of social promotion is as follows: as the number of students being retained increases, social promotion is often instituted; as academic standards are lowered, social promotion is disparaged and eliminated.

Recently, schools have turned to the practice of social promotion yet again. Some have speculated that the high standards of the new Common Core curriculum have something to do with the comeback of social promotion. As a result of more rigorous standards, more students are finding themselves struggling academically with the increased number of standardized and placement tests as well as the increased difficulty levels of the curriculum-related assignments. Furthermore, when students fail to meet the new education requirements at the end of the year, teachers have to determine whether they should practice grade retention or social promotion. While many believe the return of the practice to be a positive occurrence, many are not in favor of the return of social promotion. Mostly, those who oppose grade retention favor social promotion, while those who oppose social promotion favor grade retention.

Many individuals argue that students are better off being socially promoted than they are being left back. Those in favor of social promotion believe that the practice promotes a student’s self-esteem and helps them to not lose motivation as they continue their academic career along with their peers. To add to this argument, a 2007 study suggested the inexplicable link between retained students and dropping out of high school. In addition, socially promoted students have proven to surpass retained students when taking standardized tests and acquiring reading and math skills. Similarly, the Minnesota Mother-Child Interaction Project, a longitudinal study, found that 52% of socially promoted student graduate high school, while only 24% of retained students achieve the same goal. This is problematic due to the fact that non-high school graduates are less likely to be employed, to maintain employment, and to earn adequate wages.

Advocates of grade retention trust that this “tough love” approach is advantageous in regards to a student’s intellectual development. Not only do retained students exhibit significant improvement within repeated grades, but they also assume the responsibility of exhibiting self-discipline and confronting and learning difficult material. Grade retention may be a hit to students’ self-esteem, but it definitely increases their maturity level early on. While socially promoted students are more likely to graduate from high school, life after high school graduation is rather difficult for these individuals. As discussed in the previous blog post, the practice of socially promoting and graduating students without sufficient skills only produces adults with low skill levels, who find it harder to secure and maintain employment.

It seems that without social promotion, there is grade retention and, without grade retention, there is social promotion. With the higher standards of the new Common Core curriculum, teachers, administrators, and policymakers are now forced to choose between the two. However, even this decision is, in many cases, impossible to determine. Social promotion may positively impact one student, while retention may yield positive results for another student. A single solution, whether it is social promotion or grade retention, doesn’t work for every student. There must be an effective interaction between students and their families and teachers in order to render a decision that best fits students’ academic needs.

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Dulling the Double-Edged Sword: Immigration Reform in the Senate

Much of the media’s spotlight in the past few weeks has been shining on the debate and passage of the immigration bill in the Senate. However, within a package of amendments is a nugget of good news for youth workforce development advocates as well.

Senator Bernard Sanders of Vermont, along with six other Senators, authored a “Youth Jobs” amendment that appropriated $1.5 billion to youth employment programs. Some may consider this amendment irrelevant to the underlying purpose of the bill. Because the amendment affects all low-income youth, not just young undocumented-immigrants and “DREAMers,” critics could argue that it is outside the scope of the bill’s purpose. That assessment would be mistaken, however, as an influx of guest workers for low-wage and seasonal labor will hurt young workers the most. This amendment therefore stems the harm that may come from depressed wages and/or decreasing opportunities by providing training and employment tailored for youth.

The funds will be spent over two years with a minimum of $7.5 million going to each state. Amounts above that will be tied to the state’s unemployment rate. The program will be funded with a one-time $10 fee on each guest worker visa application that businesses use to bring in workers. Possible programs it could fund include job training during both the summer and the year for low-income students eligible for Workforce Investment Act (WIA) programming. These programs will be linked to educational opportunities in order to provide long-term value for these young workers. It is estimated that this amendment will create 400,000 jobs for the youth aged 16-24.

Fresh appropriations to youth workforce development are a small, but welcome infusion to decreased workforce investment spending. Youth unemployment remains high (over 16% for adolescents aged 16-24), and experiencing unemployment when young is very damaging to future career prospects. Thus, it is prudent to bolster funding to WIA programs. The best situation would be to actually reauthorize WIA, but this amendment is a step in the right direction.

Rallying Behind Disconnected Youth: Opportunity Nation Summit 2012

The campus of George Washington University was abuzz on September 19th with the Opportunity Nation Summit 2012.  Opportunity Nation is a bi-partisan, cross-sector campaign with a nationwide focus on a population labeled “opportunity youth,” which coincides with “disconnected youth.” The Summit served as an opportunity to all involved individuals (young people, service providers, policymakers, journalists, researchers, businesses, etc.) to come and rally together to promote promising practices and share challenges and lessons learned. Equally important was the opportunity to re-energize one’s passion for this work in the company of a multitude of dedicated individuals, given the challenges on this front.

The full day of events included breakout sessions that tackled issues ranging from strategies that employers can use to positively impact “opportunity youth” to the role of the media in covering this issue. In addition, the Summit served as a release event for multiple platforms. Not only did the Opportunity Nation campaign release a plan to keep the American Dream alive for all individuals, the National Council of Young Leaders promoted their Recommendations to Increase Opportunity and Decrease Poverty in America. Finally, the 2012 edition of the Opportunity Index was unveiled. This tool evaluates opportunity at the state and county levels according to a variety of indicators within the economy, education, and community arenas.