Volume 73, Number 47 | March 24 -30, 2004


Ending social promotion requires more than a test

The plan by Mayor Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein to end so-called social promotion at the third-grade level has become a major news story in recent weeks, after the mayor rammed the plan’s approval through the Panel for Educational Policy. He did so, of course, by removing three members from the panel who opposed the idea, in the process generating a firestorm of controversy.

Under the mayor’s program, tests, one for English and one for math, will be administered to third-grade public school students across the city on April 20 and April 27, respectively. For those who score on the lowest of five levels — level one — on either test, it will mean they will be held back and have to repeat third grade. Estimates are at least 15,000 will fall in this category.

Clearly, social promotion is not desirable. It’s a shame to move up students who are not able to perform their work at grade level; they will likely continue to struggle, probably until they graduate or, worse, drop out. And yet, the mayor’s plan, we feel, is an even less favorable option, because it is overly simplistic and won’t make a significant difference.

The problem of underperforming students is complex. What is needed is for failing students to be identified earlier, so that they can receive the necessary extra help.

More can be done without taking such drastic steps: for example, to name just a few, after-school programs and mandatory summer school for struggling students and smaller class size to lower the student-to-teacher ratio, allowing children to receive greater attention.

The mayor’s plan also seems mean-spirited. There’s no question being held back is psychologically debilitating to a young child’s ego. In a word, it stigmatizes them.

Certainly, the mayor’s handling of the panel’s vote was a sham, a mockery of a supposedly democratic system. What’s more, one can’t help but wonder at the seeming political expediency of this proposal. After low-performing third graders are held back, Bloomberg will then be able to point to higher fourth-grade scores, which he will then use as a major campaign issue when, presumably, he runs for reelection in 2005.

Ending social promotion is, in theory, a laudable idea. But this plan is ill conceived. While it will make the school system, mayor and chancellor look better, will it really serve poor-performing kids? Unfortunately, we don’t think so.

A committed voice

Jane Wood, a legendary tenant activist in Chelsea, died last week at age 96. Her passing, it seems, also represents the passing of an earlier era of passionately committed activism the likes of which we may never see again. Whether one agreed with Wood’s leftist politics or not, one couldn’t help but admire her dedication to affordable housing — indeed to New York City itself. In her energetic activism and compassion for others, in the many lives she touched and people she inspired, Jane Wood was a role model to be emulated and admired. She made a difference that was immeasurable.


The Villager is published by
Community Media LLC.

The Villager | 487 Greenwich St., Suite 6A | New York, NY 10013

Phone: 212.229.1890 | Fax: 212.229.2970
Email: news@thevillager.com

Written permission of the publisher must be obtainedbefore any of the contents of this newspaper, in whole or in part, can be reproduced or redistributed.