Teachers in New York state know social promotion when they see it. More than two-thirds of the state's elementary school teachers have been pressured to promote students who were not ready academically to move to the next grade, a recent survey found.
The New York State United Teachers' survey also found that the educators overwhelmingly supported the concept of a statewide core curriculum and an assessment requirement for student promotion.
"Anyone who has looked into the face of a youngster who has trouble filling out a job application or making the correct change should realize that not mastering basic skills is far more damaging to one's self-esteem than being promoted without having achieved these skills," Antonia Cortese, NYSUT's first vice president, said in presenting the report at the 360,000-member union's convention last month.
But Ms. Cortese made clear that the union supports more than basic skills. "Our standards are too low because we've allowed them to be," she said. "It's time to confront that fact, put the spotlight on it, and change it."
Ms. Cortese also warned that teachers and schools will need the resources to implement such changes.
Teacher attitudes, the survey shows, parallel plans proposed by New York state education officials to phase in tougher examinations that high school students would have to pass to graduate. More-rigorous standards in key subject areas also are near completion.
The union's survey was based on interviews with 1,000 randomly selected K-6 teachers statewide. They were asked questions about student promotion, academic standards, and assessments.
Sixty-eight percent of the respondents said they had felt pressure to promote students who had not attained minimum requirements; 61 percent said their elementary schools promoted students to middle or junior high school without requiring them to show that they were competent to move ahead.
Sixty-nine percent said students should be required to pass a test at each grade level before they could be promoted.
Eight teachers from the Dayton, Ohio, public schools have become video stars of sorts. Two University of Dayton education professors have produced a seven-part video series called "Becoming a Star Urban Teacher," which features scenes of the teachers demonstrating their successful teaching methods.
The video can be ordered from the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development at 1250 N. Pitt St., Alexandria, Va. 22314-1453; (703) 549-9110.
--Karen Diegmueller & Jeanne Ponessa