Problem: Mandatory Retention; Solution: Mandatory Involvement

August. The countdown to fall begins along side the start of a new school year. This time each year, the debate over student retention flares up. Reading Rockets recently featured the article, "The Effects of Mandatory Retention" on its web site. It's a comprehensive look at the issue and the pros and cons of retaining underachieving students.

I straddle the fence on the issue. I'm fully aware of the social and emotional ramifications of holding students back in school. Yet, I'm also fully aware how challenging it is to teach students who aren't in the same place as their peers academically, and the humiliation that accompanies striving students when they must sit in a classroom with peers who are at or above grade level. Either way, these students stand out and not in a good way.

It doesn't matter how you turn the issue, the blame for a student's lack of academic progress always seems to fall in this order: 1) the student and 2) the school and its teachers. But I'd like to suggest a new order to the blame chain: 1) the parents, 2) the student and 3) the school and its teachers.

I will always stand firm in my belief in research that shows that parental involvement from Day 1 is THE primary indicator of a student's academic success. For the life of me, I can't figure out why parents are rarely - if ever - held accountable for their children's academic shortcomings. When a student struggles, the school is obligated to make accommodations and provide additional services. Don't get me wrong, I've taught many students who benefited from those accommodations and services. They are essential. But it just seems like the parental piece is shoved under the rug more often than not.

Admittedly, I don't know what a parental accountability system would look like. Just like any tough issue, there are so many factors that make creating such a system an enormous (but not impossible) task. Single-parent families, language barriers, third-shift working parents, absentee parents, basic logistics.

The author of the article, Saga Briggs, considers underachievement as the root of the problem. But what's the root of that problem? It just might be, in part, lack of parental involvement.

Maybe someday we'll start researching plans for Mandatory Involvement as a way to dissolve Mandatory Retention.

What's your take? 

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