Historically, two-thirds of high school students in New York City Schools fail one or more subjects each semester, 45 percent fail two or more and, astonishingly, one-third fail three or more subjects.
Some students fail because they were absent or cut too many classes, but others attended regularly and either failed in-class or Regents exams, or failed to complete their assignments.
Requiring marginal students to sit through the same classes they have already taken is a recipe for continued failure, or worse, and has served to encourage many youngsters to stop attending school altogether.
When I was a high school principal in the 1980s and '90s, such students received "incompletes." It was understood that they had an additional semester to make up missed work, or else the grade of incomplete would be changed to a failing grade.
Only students who regularly attended the original class were permitted this option. Many students took advantage of this extension to successfully complete their work and pass the class.
Today I teach graduate-level courses to those preparing to be principals and superintendents at Teachers College, Columbia University. The college has the same policy regarding incompletes as existed in the city schools when I was a principal.
My experience this past year is that roughly 10 percent of my graduate students take advantage of this time extension, and more than 90 percent of them successfully complete the course in the following semester. The remainder receive a failing grade and are required to repeat the class.
This is a rational school policy. It responds to the reality that not everyone learns at the same pace or can complete schoolwork at the same time. It honors the fact that students have out-of-school lives and commitments that sometimes prevent them from completing assignments. Most important, it keeps students in school and allows many more to make regular progress toward graduation.
The response among opponents of this administration to credit recovery is about politics, not about students. To be sure, there were some principals and teachers who, unable to promote student achievement through other means, corrupted credit recovery efforts in their schools by lowering standards. These individuals need to be identified and held accountable for their malpractice, including by loss of employment.
Instead, the Department of Education has bowed to political pressures and thrown out the baby with the bathwater. Its restrictive new rules permitting students to receive incompletes for no more than a few courses will invariably take its toll on the most vulnerable and marginal youngsters.
Principals across the city understand the problems these regulations will create. Those at the Central Office need to listen and learn from the school leaders they have entrusted with the lives of our children.
At a time when advances in computer technology and online learning have caused educators across the country to question classroom-seat-time requirements for earning credits, the Department of Education has moved in exactly the wrong direction. Far from limiting credit recovery, we should be working on meaningful ways to expand it.