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Original article URL: http://bridgemi.com/2013/03/leaders-in-high-retention-districts-make-no-apologies-for-kindergarten-repeats/
27 March 2013
New Lothrop, a small school district in Shiawassee County, holds back more of its kindergartners for a second year than any district in the state — and its superintendent makes no apologies for it.
“The bottom line is, we’re not going to promote kids if they’re not ready,” said New Lothrop Superintendent John Strycker. “We use common sense. If a student isn’t ready to succeed, they fall behind. Once they fall behind, it’s a spiral.
“We don’t socially promote,” Strycker added. “The younger they are, the more strict we are about not socially promoting.”
A Bridge Magazine analysis released Tuesday revealed startling disparities in kindergarten retention rates across Michigan, ranging from below 2 percent to New Lothrop’s 45.2 percent (in the 2010-11 school year).
Sixty school districts hold back at least one in every four kindergartners.
Studies have shown no benefit in academic achievement from holding kids for a second year of kindergarten, while taxpayers fork out about $7,000 for the extra year of schooling.
But Stryker disagrees, pointing out that New Lothrop has the top MEAP scores in the county. “They may get a bump or bruise because they’re held back in kindergarten, but they’re not behind when they get older and don’t need those resources,” Stryker said.
At Cass City Public Schools, parents are the driving force behind the district’s 39 percent kindergarten retention rate. The small district in Michigan’s Thumb offers regular kindergarten and a “young 5” program, in which students are expected to progress to regular kindergarten the following year.
“A lot of families elect to go to the young 5 program,” said Cass City Superintendent Jeff Hartel. “I’m thinking our early 5 program will grow. People love it.”
Those early 5 programs, which generally are not as academically rigorous as regular kindergarten, are funded by the state at the same level as kindergarten. Some refer to it as “planned retention,” others as “redshirting.” Whatever the name, it cost the state $93 million in 2010-11.
Dropping early 5 programs isn’t a sure bet to limit kindergarten retention. Charlevoix Public Schools retained almost 38 percent of its 5-year-olds in 2010-11, mostly through an early 5 program. The district dropped the program this year, but has had many parents of regular kindergarten students ask the school to hold back their kids.
“We’re having parent-teacher conferences today and that exact conversation is going on,” Charlevoix Elementary Principal Doug Drenth said last week. “The parents bring it up. They’ve had multiple children go through the program and they want their other children to have it.”
Senior Writer Ron French joined Bridge in 2011 after having won more than 40 national and state journalism awards since he joined the Detroit News in 1995. French has a long track record of uncovering emerging issues and changing the public policy debate through his work. In 2006, he foretold the coming crisis in the auto industry in a special report detailing how worker health-care costs threatened to bankrupt General Motors.