“No flunk”. “No fail”. “No grade retention”.

Sounds bad, I know. But this is no grand experiment. Scholars have been evaluating various policies since the turn of the century (the previous century, that is.).

 The evidence is in, and the reality is clear. Retaining kids has no benefit whatsoever, and actually makes them turn out worse compared to similar kids who were passed. Even under the worst of circumstances, where the failing kids aren’t targeted with interventions like one-on-one tutoring  (like the MCSs are vowing to provide) to get them caught up.

Look, I think the whole “self esteem” thing has gone way too far, too. I think it’s done a lot of damage, actually. I think kids need to become familiar with failure and learn how to push through it. I think learning how to cope with failure is an important life skill. But the research suggests that failing a grade in school early on is an unusually giant, totally devastating blow that has no real bettering effect. It’s just all bad and no good. And if the MCSs are for real about providing the failing kids with intensive help to get them up to par, this just can’t be a bad thing.

And it’s not like we’re left speculating without an evidence base to draw from here. This has been studied intensively. It has been studied from every angle, and the research is clear.

For example, here’s a meta-analysis of the research.




Holmes and Matthews’s (1984) metaanalysis

revealed statistically significant differences

favoring the promoted students in

each area of comparison (e.g., academic

achievement, language arts, reading, mathematics,

work study skills, social studies, personal

adjustment, social adjustment, emotional

adjustment, behavior, self-concept, attitude

toward school, and attendance). Overall, the

retained students had lower academic achievement,

poorer personal adjustment, lower selfconcept,

and held school in less favor than promoted

students. When compared with analyses

using only studies with matched students,

results were consistent. Holmes and Matthews

(1984) concluded that educational professionals

who continue to retain students do so despite

cumulative evidence demonstrating that

the potential for negative effects consistently

outweighs positive outcomes. Holmes and

Matthews also suggested “that the burden of

proof falls on the proponents of retention to

show there is compelling logic indicating success

of their plans when so many other plans

have failed”