As thousands of schoolchildren fail the federally mandated tests at the end of this school year, a debate has erupted about the pros and cons of social promotion, especially in New York City, Chicago and Houston. Advocates of social promotion cite dozens of studies concluding that policies forcing students to repeat a grade are costly and counterproductive, and result in no gains in student achievement and increases in dropout rates.
Two recent studies concluded that Chicago's nine-year effort to end social promotion, which served as a model for Mayor Bloomberg's policy in New York City, has been enormously expensive while yielding few benefits. The Chicago Board of Education then voted to ease its promotion rules by eliminating math scores as a factor and limiting the number of years a student can be forced to repeat.
On the other hand, a year after Gov. Jeb Bush ended social promotion in Florida, more Florida third-graders are reading at or above grade level than ever before. Most of the third-graders held back showed significant improvement.
I believe that the "hold back" decision should be made at the end of the first grade, and that is the point where tutorial help should be given. If a child can't read real books by the end of the first grade, there is no point in promoting him to the second grade.
The last 50 years have seen the spending of incredible sums of money for teachers, buildings, administrators, forced busing and all kinds of extra-curricular resources. But the most essential factor was left wanting: the teaching of reading in the first grade.
We must get rid of the ridiculous myth that children will pick up reading naturally, just like learning to talk. Reid Lyon of the reading and language branch of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development says, "The converging scientific evidence is very clear" that poor readers need to be taught the "building blocks" of words, also known as phonics.
But why teach phonics only after kids have been diagnosed as poor readers? Why not give them that essential skill in the first grade?
If the schools don't teach your child to read in the first grade, then parents should take Cosby's advice. Get a good phonics system and teach your own child to read. I did, and you can, too.
Phyllis Schlafly is a national leader of the pro-family movement, a nationally syndicated columnist and author of Feminist Fantasies.
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