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Four Years To Reverse A Bad Decision?

This piece originally appeared in Spanish in El Diario.

Last Friday, the Department of Education quietly disclosed that it will end one of its signature policies: the all-out ban on so-called “social promotion” of students in city schools. Finally, “in response to … feedback and research showing that being retained multiple times can be detrimental for students,” principals will receive an additional $1,500 for every student who has already been retained and will have the flexibility to promote those students if they judge that to be best for the student.

Turns out, simply holding students back doesn’t always help them do better. And sometimes, it’s not best for a child to be 16 years old in the eighth grade.

I want to say, “I told you so,” but that isn’t very satisfying. It just makes me angry.

Back in 2008, parents and community members from the NYC Coalition for Educational Justice protested the strict retention policy, based on years of educational research. One hundred fifty of us showed up to protest the Panel for Educational Policy “vote” to put 18,000 students at risk of repeating a grade because of their state test scores — without any plan at all to help those students do better. Of course we don’t want our children passed on if they are not prepared for the next grade, but we did want proof that a ban would work, as well as a plan to give students the academic supports they would need.

Parents knew then that the policy would not help our children, yet Chancellor Joel Klein declared, “This will be a catalyst for improved performance … and parents in the city will recognize that.”

We didn’t just bring our bodies to that PEP meeting, we brought independent studies showing that retention does not help students do better academically long-term, and that it in fact increases the likelihood of dropping out of school. But the Mayor moved ahead with the policy anyway. He was so adamant about it that, when he introduced the social promotion ban in 2004, he removed three PEP members who were prepared to vote against it just hours before the vote.

For a mayor who prides himself on data-driven decisions — most recently citing statistics on the connections between sugary sodas and waistline sizes — the lack of research support for his educational policies has been shocking.

My 16-year-old nephew has been held back three times, and was just promoted to the ninth grade. Repeating another grade was not what he needed; he needed intensive supports to help him to advance with kids his own age.

I keep thinking how many children like him could have been saved from slipping through the cracks if Mayor Bloomberg had listened to parents, students and education experts back in 2008. These are the same parents that Mayor Bloomberg criticized just last month when he said we “don’t understand the value of education.”

This is not the only time the Bloomberg administration has made education policy that ignores research. The District 9 Lead Teacher Program was an effective teacher mentoring and retention program, co-developed and co-managed by teachers, parents and the DOE, which produced significant gains in the second lowest-performing district in the city. But when the Bloomberg administration took the program citywide in 2006, they ignored the research study showing that the collaboration had been key to its success, and eliminated that part of the program. The current Lead Teacher Program is a sorry shell of its original form and impact.

In 2007, the DOE launched an initiative to pay teachers more if their student test scores rose — despite the fact that research has overwhelmingly showed that incentives like this have no impact on student achievement. Last year, after pouring $57 million into the initiative, the DOE ended it because . There are many more examples.

For the sake of our children, our communities and our city, we need the next mayor to listen to parents and community leaders, and to lead based on evidence, not experiments. Too many of our children have become collateral damage over the last 10 years.

Zakiyah Ansari is the Advocacy Director for the Alliance for Quality Education and a parent leader at the Coalition for Educational Justice.

El Diario is New York City’s oldest and largest Spanish-language newspaper. Read more education news from El Diario.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.

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