Scott Schmerelson, the first Republican elected to the LAUSD Board of Education in decades, has stated he wants to end “social promotion,” the practice of advancing failing students to the next grade because of fears that holding them back would damage them psychologically.
A 35-year veteran of the public school system as a teacher and principal, Schmerelson told the LA Weekly, “Middle school is where we have to catch the children before they fail. I really feel that we should hold our kids in middle school until they’re ready for high school. I don’t want to have any 47-year-old kids in middle school. But we need to work with them, including retention.”
A 1999 state law requires students in California to be held back if they are failing, but the LAUSD generally eschews the practice. Ryan Smith, executive director of Education Trust West, told the Weekly, “Research doesn’t support the idea that holding students back improves student outcomes. We find that students tend to be disengaged when they’re held back, and that teachers struggle with how to support them.”
New board member and charter school founder Ref Rodriguez told the Weekly that Schmerelson’s retention position is “interesting,” but would rather focus on counseling for middle school students.
A University of Minnesota study used grade level enrollment data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to assert that retention rates nationally were roughly 2.7% from 1995 to 2005, but declined to 1.5% by 2009. In 2014, Arzie Galvez, a LAUSD district administrative coordinator, said the district’s retention rate hovered around 7.5%. From 2002-2008, kindergarten retention in LAUSD ranged from 1.8% to 3%.
Schmerelson strongly supports much of the teachers union’s platform, including their opposition to the use of test scores to evaluate teachers, and their opposition to requiring more than two years of classroom experience for teachers to earn tenure.