Response to today’s conversation

Commenters on the AJC Get Schooled blog were divided on what remains an ongoing debate in American schools: Whether making students repeat a grade is good practice or a waste of money, energy and effort. The latter view is presented today in a guest column by a UGA professor. Here is a sampling of reader comments under their chosen screen names:

Colonel Jack: As far as the "negative" effects of retention on students' self-esteem … my job as a teacher is to teach. It's not to ensure everybody feels good about themselves. I've always told my students that "If you want to feel good about yourself, do your best in class. Earn a good grade (don't expect me to give it to you, because that isn't going to happen). You'll feel wonderful about yourself."

Jeremy: Retention is ineffective because we are simply making the student do it over again without addressing the causes of their failure. But, retention would be unnecessary, usually, if more effective interventions were handled before it became a problem. This would of course require more funding upfront but, as the study points out, would realize cost savings over the long term. Problem is people tend to see only the immediate impact of a given strategy so the idea that a little more money spent now will reduce welfare/prison costs in the future won't track with most.

John: Maybe instead of always blaming underpaid and over-educated teachers we can have the courage to tell someone their parenting skills need work and hold them accountable for fixing it. Yes, we can and should help them…Yes, we can and should provide tools. Ultimately the responsibility is on them, not us.

SouthGeorgia: Tutoring and interventions can work for many of these kids, but not without a political and financial commitment from our legislature and governor. With the billions in state cuts already made in basic programs over the past 12 years to public education, it's almost a waste of time to talk about this problem because there's really no resolve to help among the current crop of state leaders. We're not talking about small amounts of money, but big chunks to restore our schools to even 2002 funding levels. And then to add a true intervention process to save these kids is not what our politicians want to hear. It's a sad day in Georgia when our legislators are willing to follow the party line and throw away kids, damaging lives and dooming the economic future of our state.

Dennis: Good luck on convincing students and parents that, summer, after school, pull-out programs or other "interventions" are the answer to researchers' statistical conclusions that current retention or social promotions are not working. Teachers, on the other hand, will love them. Gets the problem and challenged students out of their classrooms, and offers another cadre of career opportunities to those who like working with the challenged individual student. And politicians — oh yes, they will love it. Especially when shown there is a positive dollar impact to the intervention approach. Interesting that just today I read an article on how many school systems are now using online courses to "improve" their graduation rates. Good example of new approaches to the problem. Wouldn't it be nice if it also really improved the learning curve of the student — rather than simply the graduation rate statistic.