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Politicians in the classroom

Gov. Mitch Daniels comes out swinging on his failed

attempt to end social promotion at the third-grade level:

"There will be no more funding, and we'll achieve 100 percent of what

we set out to do. You'll either know how to read, or you won't leave

third grade. We intend to act through rule making, and we think

they've enabled that with the law (House Bill 1367) they passed. By

the time a child is finished third grade the state has spent over

$40,000 and the school district has had 720 days. If that child can

not read, there is a fundamental failure in that district, and they'll

need to remedy it. But the most unacceptable thing to do is to shuffle

that child along to fourth grade and to almost certain academic

failure. It's a cruel thing to do, and it's the wrong thing to do, and

we're going to put an end to it."

Lots of bad assumptions here. First, that the same school district

had the student for 720 days. Not all children begin kindergarten and

finish third grade in the same district. Some move from another

district, another state, another nation -- some even move from refugee

camps in Thailand to an Indiana school.

Secondly, that there's some easy method of determining readers versus

non-readers, accessible to all Indiana school districts. It's not a

question of a teacher sitting down with a student and asking him or

her to read a few pages. Multiple-choice questions on the ISTEP+ test

won't cut it.

Then there's the fact that sound research

disputes the assertion that ending social promotion is a panacea. A

fifth-grader held back in third grade is probably a better example of

cruelty than a struggling reader promoted to fourth grade.

The governor is on the right track wondering how a student reaches

third grade without strong reading skills. The problem is that he

hasn't asked any teachers how that happens. Phyllis Pond, a retired

kindergarten teacher and 32-year Republican legislator has the answer

-- intervene early. Waiting until third grade is far too late, she

says.

Let's hope that educators have some input in the rule-making process

here.

Karen Francisco, editorial page editor for The Journal Gazette, has been an Indiana journalist since 1981. She writes frequently about education for The Journal Gazette opinion pages and here, where she looks at the business, politics and science of learning as it relates to northeast Indiana, the state and the nation. She can be reached at 260-461-8206 or by e-mail at kfrancisco@jg.net.

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