“No-fail” policy divide between teachers & public widening

Imagine my surprise when a fellow retired educator by the name of Ken O’Connor left comments on this thread that basically said I was wrong about everything I have written related to no-fail policies and teachers being allowed to give zeros.  Judging from his website, he is obviously a very credible professional.  Yet, I have rarely encountered a more single minded arrogant visitor in the nearly five years I have been blogging. Readers will find his comments here, here and here

There is no doubt whatsoever that O’Connor is entitled to his opinions based on his own education and experiences. However, what I found problematic was that he didn’t seem to feel I was entitled to mine. Initially, for instance, he seemed to assume I didn’t know what I was writing about. Well, I do know what I am writing about as I have done, and continue to do, my own research and publishing.

The problem, as I see it, is that there are three paradigms or world views, as explained in Curriculum Perspectives and Practice by John Miller (a former teacher of mine) and Wayne Seller. And, unless you are going to debate at cross purposes, it is always a good idea to figure out where a person is coming from in terms of their beliefs about curriculum and instruction and everything in between. 

In any event, while neither O’Connor or myself have all the answers, each of us should be allowed to have opposing opinions as professionals. However, since that was not the case, the one thing I learned from his visit here is that the no-fail policy divide between teachers and parents is widening to such a degree that there is soon going to be a complete inability for either side to effectively communicate with the other.

And, unfortunately, the crux of the matter is that stuck right in the middle of the debate are the students who will one day be adults in a world where employers do not differentiate between “learning” and “behaviours.”

15 thoughts on ““No-fail” policy divide between teachers & public widening

  1. Sandy – my father was a much respected and well-loved teacher. I was surprised when, away from home, I would get unsolicited ‘testamonials’ from former students. One of the best was “your dad is as happy to see a dropout as an honour student’.

    However, what I did get from the former students was that my father, although extremely understanding, also had high personal standards and equally high expectations for his students. The kids knew he understood why they did what they did, but they also understood two other things: one was that if you break the rules you accept the consequences, and the second was that – sympathetic as my dad was – he was an adult with responsibilities, and that he was trying to help them mature and come to adulthood as well.


  2. Sandy – needless to say, my father would NOT have been a big fan of the no-fail policy. He was more likely to tell the truants to hand in their books and come back when they were ready to learn. Need I say that the doors were open at that school when they did come back as older students? Also, he established special programs for the boys who were wanting to apprentice at the nearby plant. These gave them the needed academic creds while indulging their desire for the more hands-on vocational part. And they all got the lecture about ‘I know you don’t see the need for learning (fill in the blanks) but you need the course to get your diploma and be eligible for apprentice – SO DO IT!!’

    It worked.


  3. I have never agreed with the “no-fail” policy. I don’t understand how pushing kids along so they get farther and farther behind is good for their self esteem. Self esteem comes from within when you accomplish something it breeds confidence and personal pride. I think no-fail has the opposite effect. I went to school there was no such policy, if you didn’t know the material you stayed back to learn it. I grew up in the city with large schools and i only saw it happen twice. Funny thing, both went on to do well.

    My son is in grade 6 this year and has a new teacher. This teacher is new to this school this year. He doesn’t believe in grades or tests (all tests not just standardized testing) and believes that the kids should grade themselves and their peers. He’s teaching them to blog and tweet and social network.

    If there’s one thing i do know is with hard work you can achieve your goals. It makes me sad that there are educators out there that don’t believe that. Yes there are struggles along the way and life isn’t always fair but you pull yourself up by your bootstraps and keep on keepin on.

    How is it possible that a teacher can just throw out the curriculum? I meet with the teacher this week and i have a very long list of questions. I guess i’ll figure out what to do after that. My children have been going to this school for six years. It is an excellent school and they have had some great teachers. I don’t work so i’m lucky enough to be very involved with the school. It’s an economically diverse neighborhood so the children attending come from all spectrums. My son thinks his new teacher is super cool so i’m sure i won’t be very popular after this meeting. Fortunately for my son i’m not in a popularity contest. I do worry however about the Children that don’t have parents that care.

    Last time i looked it wasn’t reading, writing, arithmetic and twitter. Sandy if you have any suggestions for me i’d really appreciate it.

    [Sections edited by blog administrator.]


  4. Failing a subject in HS is a lot less traumatic than failing a year in ES. The research does clearly show that those who are retained in an elementary grde actually do worse than those who are “transferred” with support. High school is something else again. There are huge numbers of kids who do well in all subjects except one compulsory one, say math or French. They do fine repeating that one and moving on. Universities are full of people who failed even more than one HS subject.


  5. Kari — I don’t give suggestions or advice here. Please see my “Disclaimer” section under “About.” However, if you are really a parent looking for help, I would point you to several posts I have done about parent advocacy on my header bar and in my “Categories” section via the SideBar.

    That said, I am also puzzled that you are using an “alfiekohn” e-mail addy — which means you could just be looking for publicity. Point is, I have no way of knowing if you are legit and therefore, have no intention of falling into some kind of trap. As such, I will be removing the link in your comment.


  6. Doug — I would agree with you except in one situation — at the end of Grade 3.

    Having run a private reading clinic I saw far too many kids get promoted to Grade 4 when they hadn’t yet reached automaticity with the “learning to read” skills. The problem with that, is from Grade 4 on its about “reading to learn.” Big difference. No more time spent on word recognition and word meaning. Those skills are assumed.

    Therefore, kids who haven’t grasped that first phase of reading are trying to find main ideas, make inferences, etc., when they still can’t decode all the words they are reading or understand their meaning. The point is, children can’t get into comprehension without fluency.

    So, at age 8, repeating a year is better than pushing them through, a point brought home to me hundreds of times in my own practice as well as in the Brock U. Reading Clinic where I did my research. The bottom line is that kids usually struggle in the later ES grades, and even into HS, because they continue to be struggling readers — all because they were pushed ahead before they were ready when they were 8 or 9.


  7. Sandy I apologize i am new to all of this. It automatically put that website up when i put the link in my post. I put the link to it because there was just so much . Please delete my post if you want. I’m just an ordinary parent tryng to figure stuff out. I will go and read those posts on parent advocacy. Again I apologize.


  8. No problem Kari. You don’t have to apologize. I understand. You are always welcome here. It is just that in the nearly five years I have been blogging, a lot of things have happened and I have to be very careful, particularly about potential legal issues. I am a grandmother and greatgrandmother and sure don’t need the hassles and cost of a legal suit.

    Perhaps other parents or practising educators can give you some advice.

    What I say in my advocacy posts in a very general sense is this:
    If you don’t get satisfaction from the classroom teacher, who is under the jurisdiction of the provincial ministry of education and MUST follow all guidelines, then go to the principal.
    If you don’t get satisfaction there, ask that your son be moved to another grade six. If another grade six is in another school, I would also insist on bussing being paid by the school board.
    If that fails, go to the Area Superintendent.
    If that fails, go to the Director of the Board of Education.
    If all that fails, go to the local provincial member of parliament.
    If even that fails, go directly to the media.

    Yes, you will be labelled a trouble maker. But, so what. In ten years, there will likely be a complete turnover of staff and no one will remember you or your son. But, he will know you did the right thing way back when he was in grade six.

    Parents are always hesitant to rock the boat. Yet, if rocking the boat is what needs to happen, do so. Any school in this country, I assume you are in Canada, is acountable to the provincial government’s ministry of education. And, testing and report cards are part of the expectations. Any teacher who is not following those ministry guidelines should be fired. And, don’t be afraid to say so. Teachers should never be doing their own thing, so to speak.


  9. The problem with the no fail philosophy is that it carries over to the corporate world more than many believe. The group now does everything and there is always a freeloader or two along for the ride. They get by because the system allows for this, those that can do less or give less to get by when they probably shouldn’t due to insufficient contributions.


  10. Sandy, I object to your labelling of this as a teacher-parent widening. The vast majority of teachers would agree with you that no-fail is causing problems. But, as employees, we need to follow the policies and rules set out by our school boards and the Ministry of Education.

    In many cases, issues that appear to be parent vs teachers were actually rules and policies demanded by parents (in many cases a small group). The behaviour of children today and the fear of the work ethic moving into the corporate world is a problem created by the overall society. Schools, play a role, but so do parents and other professionals.


  11. The problem Matt — is that parents are not getting that message from teachers. Perhaps that may be the case at the H.S. level but definitely not at the ES level. And, that is most unfortunate. The issue is, of course, no teacher is allowed to agree with a parent in a way that makes the board or gov’t look bad. To do so is breaking that invisible ethics code that we are all taught in teachers college — a code that parents don’t understand. How do parents deal with that code of conduct if they don’t know it exists. It is why you hear nothing in the media about what teachers think. The only voices we hear are union official voices. And, no, I have no idea what the solution should be except maybe the union voices should actually be louder on policy.


  12. I have revised my Oct. 4, 2:07 pm reply to Kari. When I said I didn’t need the hassles, I was referring to the hassle and cost of a law suit, not parent problems. Actually, the reason this site exists at all is to help parents manoeuvre the education system. I like supporting and assisting practising teachers too but usually they are not the ones who cry out for help here. It’s not easy balancing on the high wire between the two groups, but I try. Fortunately, for me, when I do fall there is a virtual safety net of regular commenters.


  13. What Doug is saying is bang on. It is the reality teachers have traditionally felt. When the unions were still professional associations, we didn’t have grievances, but the effect was the same. I often read here where non-teachers will say things like, “Well, if they really wanted to, they would speak up.” No, if they really wanted to and did, they would be unemployed very quickly.

    But, you know, it’s the same in any job. When I taught for the two universities, I had complete academic freedom in terms of what I taught and how I taught, as long as my course outline was compatible with the blurb in the university calendar. I had no one checking up on me, ever. It is assumed you are a professional. The thing is, my students were teachers. So, if I did something they disagreed with, they’d complain to my department Chair and I would get a call. If I could defend whatever it was I did, then the Chair simply relayed that message to the student.

    But, I would NEVER have said anything publicly against the department, the university or its policies. NEVER! At McMaster, I was covered by a CUPE local, whether I liked it or not. On the one occasion when I needed them, I liked it. Unions serve a purpose and that is because, all too often, supervisors in both public and private settings will disregard the rights of their employees without them.

    In any event, I challenge my regular commenters here to tell me one employer in Ontario, public or private sector, that allows their workers to complain publicly. There won’t be any because they all have public relations or communications departments for messaging for a reason.

    So, teachers are in no different a situation than any other worker anywhere.


  14. Teachers need to know that a grievance is a “violation of the collective agreement”. It does not just mean you are angry about something. All issues not covered in the agreement are deemed to be “managements right” subject to the laws of natural justice and past practice.

    One teacher one time told me that the principal did not do room allocation by seniority and therefore he wanted to file a grievance. I asked, “can you show me the clause of the contract that says she must do it by seniority?” failing that you are SOL. I can’t expect the general public to understand this if half the teachers don’t understand it.

    Past practice? The Director of the Rainbow board ordered CUPE ETFO and OSSTF to stop wearing union clothing to work. It was quickly explained to her by our lawyers and her own that since this had been past practice for 70 years, she would lose at arbittration and therefore should probably not persue the matter. The matter was dropped.


  15. Doug, I am putting up a post about this. It is obvious that there is far too much misunderstanding on the role of teachers and their unions and parents. I mean, I always knew the Education Act requirements. I mean I wrote articles about those very requirements, particularly in relation to teacher duties and special education. Yet, I didn’t really understand the nuances day to day until reading your comments and recently when I had a long talk with a former colleague of mine who is very much involved in teacher union work.

    I may be accused of taking the teachers side in my new post, but that is not my intention. What I am trying to be is fair. Teachers are human beings who have to deal with the political realities facing them. They can’t do or say anything that would have them fired. That would be counter productive in more ways than one.

    But, by the same token, there has to be a change in attitude that as soon as a parent raises their eye brows they are labelled SD’s. Somehow, someway, there needs to be a joining of hands for the sake of the kids. I know that is probably pie in the sky, but in reality, there are thousands, if not millions, of teacher-parent transactions every single day without hassle. Let’s try to make it 100% — but BOTH sides have to work on that kind of result.


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