On the subject of efforts to end social promotion of struggling students, Jay Greene and Marcus Winter of the Manhattan Institute offer one of the neatest metaphors I’ve read in their recent New York Post op-ed:

New York’s schools used to emulate the Scarecrow from “The Wizard of Oz.” They kept kids moving along the yellow brick road, advancing them from grade to grade as they got older, regardless of whether they learned along the way. At the end of their journey the schools handed students a diploma and hoped that, as with the Scarecrow, simply receiving this piece of paper would suddenly make them smart and capable.

Mayor Bloomberg and School Chancellor Joel Klein realize that success later in life depends on the skills students acquire, not whether schools throw a diploma at them. They have confronted this Scarecrow model head-on.

One of the earliest influences in our own decision to homeschool was the research and books of Raymond and Dorothy Moore. The Moores, formerly government education researchers, argued surprisingly enough that children were individuals like their parents, and some of them were precocious, some of them bloomed later, and one-size-fits-all rarely fits anyone well — in clothing or in educational paths. Eight years of age does not imply long division any more than it implies a certain height or shoe size.

A public school adminstrator once asked me how to transition former homeschoolers into a public school program. He had seen what others have noted, that because home education allows the curriculum to adapt to the individual interests and needs of the student, a homeschooled student is often out of synch with his age mates in the institutional setting. One large study found almost 25% of homeschool students were performing one or more grade levels above their age group (compared to perhaps 5% estimated in one large school district).

What’s more, the same student who breezes through grammar and reads three grade levels ahead of his age may be grinding his gears on the slopes of fractions and decimals, so that student may not fit any single grade’s scope and sequence perfectly.

While that presents a quandary for the managers of more regimented programs, it is one of the great strengths of this educational option — No Child Left Behind meets No Child Held Back. While we do have to coach our homeschooled students how to answer shopkeepers’ question, “What grade are you in?”, we all appreciate the fit of education tailor-made versus off-the-rack. Ending social promotion is a simple way to incorporate some of that reality back into institutional learning experience.