The Chicago Board of Education’s recent decision to “double flunk” 1,300 students is an educational disaster not only to the children being retained, but also to the teachers, the staff and the school system itself. The board’s hard-line approach may satisfy those who wish to draw a line in the sand for academic “standards,” but others believe double flunking children is ill-advised and short-sighted.
I have taught in the Chicago Public Schools for the past 10 years, and in the Catholic schools for four years prior. I have never witnessed the “benefit” of holding a child back for two consecutive years. Such children inevitably become more frustrated and often opt to quit school. Additionally, such children frequently develop negative behaviors which have a profound impact on other students in the classroom.
Tragically, the current Board of Education policy does not take the individual child into account. It is driven, rather, by a need to demonstrate statistical improvement in the city’s student body as a whole. It implies that the only thing that matters is how a student performs on a single test. Other factors— class participation, classroom tests, teacher assessment of the child’s progress—are not taken into consideration. This top-down approach gives strangers more power to assess a child’s educational progress than those professionals who have worked with the student every day.
No credible study has ever shown that double flunking children benefits the child. All empirical evidence indicates double flunking is destructive to a child’s self esteem. Teachers of twice- flunked students are given the near-impossible task of rebuilding the child’s confidence in learning. Ultimately, the system loses because those who have double flunked tend not to finish school and therefor become a burden to society.
So why is the Chicago Board of Education double flunking children at all? A cynic may suggest that double flunking boosts overall standardized test scores—double-flunked students become special education students who are not tested and cannot drag down school performance. But increasing the test scores by removing low-performing students from the scoring sample is not education; it’s manipulation of statistics.
The Board of Education’s hard-line approach of double flunking its students should end. While some may be temporarily satisfied that something is being done, the long-term impact of this policy on our children and our schools will be disastrous.
Jay Rehak, member
Proactive Chicago Teacher Caucus,
Chicago Teachers Union
Editor’s note: We asked Chief Accountability Officer Philip Hansen whether double-flunked students are being classified as special education students. He said they are being assigned to small special classes and assessed for learning problems but are not automatically being designated as special education students.