August 31, 2009
An ‘F’ for Social Promotion
by Michael Zwaagstra, M.Ed. and Dr. Rodney A. Clifton
Social promotion is the practice of advancing students to the next grade even if they have not met the academic requirements of their current year. Generally, advocates of social promotion focus on the problems they associate with grade retention or repetition.
• The argument for social promotion rests primarily upon the claim that students kept behind end up worse off academically and emotionally than those socially promoted.
Despite the widespread use of social promotion in North American schools, there are good reasons to question this practice.
• Social promotion leads to graduates who lack the necessary knowledge and skills for academic success.
• Social promotion results in signifi cant ability disparities among students in individual classrooms.
• Many of the criticisms leveled at grade retention (i.e., higher dropout rates and damage to self-esteem) apply to social promotion.
• The negative effects of grade retention have been exaggerated.
• Social promotion has a negative effect on student motivation.
The practice of promoting students without suffi cient regard to academic ability or achievement needs to end. There are circumstances where students will benefi t from extra time in a particular grade or course.
Michael C. Zwaagstra
is a research fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy who specializes in education policy. He has extensive teaching experience at a variety of grade levels and currently teaches high school social studies in Manitoba. He received his B.Ed., P.B.C.E., and M.Ed. degrees from the University of Manitoba where he won several academic awards such as the A. W. Hogg Undergraduate Scholarship, the Klieforth Prize in American History, and the Schoolmaster’s Wives Association Scholarship. As an educator, Michael is a strong proponent of raising academic standards, holding schools accountable for their results, and expanding the educational options available to parents. His columns promoting common sense education reform have been published in major daily newspapers including the National Post, Winnipeg Free Press, Saskatoon StarPhoenix, and Calgary Herald. He is also a frequent guest on radio stations across the country. His best-selling first book, What's Wrong with Our Schools and How We Can Fix Them, was released in mid-2010.