Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Age and Education

Memphis City Schools deputy superintendent of academic operations Irving Hamer calls 9,000 elementary students a "ticking bomb."

They are students who, during K-5, have already been held back by at least one grade.

"I can practically say categorically that these students do not graduate," Hamer told the MCS board at its most recent meeting.

Add to that the almost 7,000 students who get held back during middle school, and the almost 10,000 that get held back in high school, and the district is looking at 22 percent of its students being overage by the time they reach 12th grade.

Hamer, who arrived at the district 10 days ago, has a plan to recruit 2,000 college students to improve literacy among overage students. Once reading skills improve, the district would follow up with a summer reading clinic for those same students.

They didn't go into it last night, but I assume those same overage children also pose a challenge to school safety and security.

MCS might be looking at students who have been held back because of academic achievement but, across the nation, the age of children in schools has gotten older, mostly because they are starting school later. A recently released study by the National Bureau of Economic Research shows that 40 years ago, 96 percent of six-year-olds were in first grade or above. In 2005, only 84 percent of those children were in first grade or above.

Conventional wisdom tells parents to hold younger students back in kindergarten, especially if they are small for their age or are boys. Some schools, with a nod to high stakes testing, think the extra year gives students a better chance to meet federal benchmarks.

But that might not be the case. From the study's abstract:

"The relatively late start of boys in primary school explains a small but significant portion of the rising gender gaps in high school graduation and college completion. Increases in the age of legal school entry intensify socioeconomic differences in educational attainment, since lower-income children are at greater risk of dropping out of school when they reach the legal age of school exit."


Anonymous said...

I can remember when a student did not make it into the next grade was called "failing", which places responsibility on the student. Now, it is called being "held back", implying that responsibility lies elsewhere-- usually on the teacher.

Save This MG said...

My two boys are home schooled so whatever happens in the public schools doesn't really affect me. That said, I think what the schools should do is place children in classes based on ability and not age. Not every 12 year old is reading or doing math on the 6th or 7th grade level. Some are higher and some are lower. It's not fair to have a child with a lower ability sit in a class with kids who are working at a higher level. Sets up failure and frustrates the kids who are ready to move on.

So, it means kids changing classes. Small burden to bear if it means more students ultimately succeeding.