[Susan notes: This is a strong letter, useful as a model for others trying to battle retention policies.]
To the editor
Educators and community leaders in New York City and throughout the nation are justifiably alarmed and concerned about the actions of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg in reconstituting the city’s policymaking board at the last minute in order to pass a mandatory retention plan for third grade students. The Mayor has created a dichotomy between “social promotion” and in-grade retention in order to play politics with the academic careers of thousands of third grade, the majority of whom are undoubtedly poor and minority students. An arbitrary policy of retention based on test scores disproportionately harms the most vulnerable students in our public schools who for a variety of reasons, often unrelated to their school performance, do not score well on standardized tests. One of the primary causes of low test scores among minority students is that they are learning English as a second language, yet they are being tested in English although their speaking, reading and writing skills are not fully developed. Many of these students may in fact be progressing in school at an average rate for a second language learner, but are not on grade level. Mr. Bloomberg’s retention policy needlessly and arbitrarily penalizes these students, ignoring both their normal learning curve and what the preponderance of the educational research tells us about the harmful long-term effects of in-grade retention on their academic progress. We can judge from Mr. Bloomberg’s rhetoric on this issue that control over educational policy and the approval of some of his political constituencies outweigh the legitimate concerns of minority community members over the academic futures of their children. It is tragic when politicians act on the belief that their political fortunes are enhanced by “cracking down” on academically at-risk school children. The citizens of New York City should listen carefully to the voices of outrage at Mayor Bloomberg’s power politics and put control over education policy back into the hands of those who are most knowledgeable about, and most directly affected by, such policies.
Jill Kerper Mora, Ed.D.
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