Few prospects are more repulsive to a child than being "held back." But countless young Americans are facing this possibility as states implement new laws curbing "social promotion" - the practice of moving students to the next grade regardless of academic performance.
Concerns about damaged self-esteem undergird that practice. Indeed, a few studies indicate that students who are held back often become chronic failures and drop out.
Those concerns shouldn't be cavalierly brushed aside. But an even greater concern is that young people are cheated - and so is society - when they're given an education that lacks real substance. The basic standard should be that kids are moved on to another grade only after they've acquired a reasonable grasp of the material from the one below.
Just how far schools are from that standard is illustrated by the situation in Los Angeles, which has the country's second-largest school district. As the lead article in today's Monitor notes, the city is scurrying to muster new resources in anticipation of California's deadline for ending social promotion. It needs tutors, classroom space, and more summer-school teachers.
If the alternative to automatic social promotion is not to be mass failures, such resources are indispensable. But they're only part of what's needed. Parents have to be brought into the process. And kids themselves have to be led to decide that they can apply themselves as they may not have before.
From the White House down, Americans have concluded that social promotion must end. Now the task is to do that in a way that reclaims young minds, rather than discarding them.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society