2009-09-09 / Editorials

Getting Our New School Year Off On The Right Foot


In just two weeks, starting from August 27, our public school students will be going back to class. We've got every reason to believe that they'll pick up right where they left off last school year- a year when across the city, elementary and middle school students at every grade level continued to make impressive gains, as measured by the state's standardized tests, in the reading and math skills that are the foundations of learning.

That progress results directly from our decision to steadily eliminate so-called "social promotion" in our schools. Frankly, I can't think of a meaner, more harmful thing to do than to move students up a grade if they're not prepared to take on the work required of them there. That just sets youngsters up for disappointment and failure.

So since 2004, we've done away with social promotion in the third, fifth, seventh, and eighth grades. If students in those grades have trouble meeting the standards they should in reading and math, we now give them intensive remedial help in summer school and then let them take the tests again. The result is that over the years, the number of students needing to repeat a grade has declined dramatically. In 2004, for example, more than 3,000 third graders were held back because of low test scores; in 2008, fewer than 870 were. The same pattern has held in the other grades, too. And the resulting year-by-year climb in reading and math test scores in schools across the city speaks for itself. It's a big reason why President Obama and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan have hailed New York City as an example for big-city school systems nationwide.

Earlier this month, the governor and state legislature also cast a major vote of confidence in our efforts to improve the city's public schools by overwhelmingly reauthorizing the 2002 law that established mayoral responsibility for running the schools. We're grateful for their actions- and we're not going to waste any time in building on the progress we've made. The reauthorized school governance law re-establishes the Panel for Educational Policy, which oversees major decisions by the city Department of Education. And now, the first order of business that we'll ask the Panel to take up is ending social promotion in the fourth and sixth grades, too.

By doing that, the Panel will finally and thoroughly eliminate a cynical and now completely discredited practice in our schools. It will mean that in every grade, in every elementary and middle school, we'll finally be doing things in the right order: educating our students before we promote them, instead of the other, and wrong, way around. I can't think of a better way to help our students, and get the new school year off on the right foot.

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