Despite the law, California students continue to be moved along, regardless of academic achievement.
In the Los Angeles Unified School District, for example, only a small percentage are held back, although, according to state test results, large numbers perform well below grade level.
After the state law passed, local education officials debated who should be held back, when and why. And they worried about angry parents and overcrowded classrooms. These fears did not materialize, although classrooms have remained crowded for other reasons. Meanwhile, the focus on how to improve academic achievement shifted elsewhere.
One of the ways administrators in Los Angeles hope to address their stagnant education system is by targeting the shortcomings of individual students. But with constant budget cuts that have become increasingly more palpable in recent years, effective tutoring programs and summer school classes no longer receive funding.
Despite these setbacks, however, the administration believes educators need to do a better job of instilling critical reading, writing and math skills at an early age before the problems become endemic. Studies indicate that individuals who reach certain milestones, such as the ability to read fluently by grade three, for example, are far more likely to succeed and graduate from high school. By addressing these issues early – students will be better prepared to tackle L.A.'s rigorous curriculum and therefore be less likely to drop out when they get older.
But while systemic changes are a necessity in Los Angeles, and in other places around the country, teachers need to deliver. The notion of implementing systemic reforms will only produce tangible results when school districts discontinue the practice of hiring and maintaining unqualified teachers.
What public schools need is a fundamental shift in policy where candidates are vetted appropriately, tenure is harder to attain, and job security is based on merit, not length of service. Until that happens, and steps are taken to mitigate the clout of teachers unions who safeguard the status quo, American children will continue to suffer regardless of what systemic changes are put into practice.