by Cheryl Jackson Friday September 21, 2007

What happens to a six-year-old child who fails Grade 1?

Thirty years ago, I saw him sitting on his front step. It was the end of June, the last day of school. He looked so sad. I asked him what was wrong, and he said, "I flunked".

That was the beginning of the end. He repeated Grade One, but he never caught up. He dropped out of school in Grade Nine. That little boy is 36 years old now, and he still struggles with the lack of opportunity that comes with such little education.

Jeff Kugler, one of our guests on Your Voice, says that's exactly what the research shows - that kids who fail Grade 1 are a huge part of the Grade 9 dropout group. He says they watch their whole peer group move on, and they're told they're not good enough.

Maybe it was damage to that boy's self-esteem that created his later problems. Or maybe his teachers never figured out how he learned, and kept teaching him in a way that just didn't work for him. If, the second time around his Grade 1 teacher had tried a different method of reaching him, would that little boy have eventually caught up, and found success? If he'd been pushed along with his peers, would he have eventually caught up, and felt better about himself?

These are the questions I want to ask on our show "The F Word: Why We Don't Fail Students Anymore."

Lots of research has shown that moving kids along with their peers, whether or not they've mastered the skills, is more beneficial than failing them.

But a recent study in the U.S. shows that making kids repeat a grade not only helps them catch up, they actually surpass their struggling counterparts who were promoted.

All I know is that whether you believe in failing kids, or pushing them along with their peer group, this is a decision that can have a life-long effect. Just ask my 36-year-old friend.