A Junto Strategy Project
Over the last decade a growing number of business books have touted the benefits of failing (e.g., The Wisdom of Failure, The Power of Failure, Failing Forward, etc.). Rather than viewing failure as a bad thing or attaching a stigma with failure, we are starting to realize the benefits of failure and how to use failure to set up future success.
What if we were to view education in this same light, particularly with failure to pass a grade?
In today’s school/education environment, there is a heavy stigma for someone who fails a grade and gets held back. It might as well be a scarlet letter both for the student and for the school. But what if we could turn that stigma on its head.
There is one school that has done just that – the Cesar Chavez Charter School in DC. The school set some challenging academic standards from the beginning of the school’s existence and when the end of the year came 29 of 40 9th grade students did not meet the requirements to move to 10th grade. The norm in surrounding academic landscape was to simply pass along the students, but the founders of Chavez broke with tradition and informed those 29 students that if they were to come back they would need to repeat the 9th grade. And guess what, they came back and repeated the 9th grade.
For Irasema Salicido, the schools chief administrator, such an action “was a testament to the theory that when you hold young people to high expectations, they rise to the equation” (Educational Freedom in Urban America, 2004).
More importantly, the actions of the Chavez administrators helped dump the stigma at their school that repeating grades was “failure” but rather a chance for students to learn from the past mistakes and be better prepared to succeed in the future.
As we continue the debate/discussion on education reform, let’s add to the list of reforms the chance to turn the stigma failure on its head and create a new culture that uses failure not as a label but as a launching pad.