Pass or Fail: Parents’ Role in Multi-Age Classroom Development

In this multi-part series, I provide a dissection of the phenomenon of retention and social promotion. Also, I describe the many different methods that would improve student instruction in classrooms and eliminate the need for retention and social promotion if combined effectively.

While reading this series, periodically ask yourself this question: Why are educators, parents and the American public complicit in a practice that does demonstrable harm to children and the competitive future of the country?

Change within classrooms isn’t best spearheaded by teachers, or administrators, or researchers. Change takes place when parents put their support behind it.

According to some researchers, parents are particularly prone to dissatisfaction and rejection of new models for the education system. They often have concerns for the long-term stability and academic success of their children, and rightly so. Schools should not be an environment in which there is considerable experimentation with standards and procedures.

Yes, teachers and administrators – and even students – should be prepared to experiment a bit to understand what models and approaches work best in a specific situation, but even this level of experimentation is expected to occur within academic standards. The last thing most parents want is to have their child participate in an experimental change in education standards, only to find the experiment a failure.

Many parents are not fully aware of the philosophies of multi-age classrooms, or of the wealth of research supporting them. Many parents have concerns about their children being grouped with other children of different ages and are often worried about the quality of instruction. Such concerns are not unreasonable. As part of the strategy for ending grade retention and social promotion, the teaching profession also needs to be refreshed. Above all, teachers must be given adequate support and professional-development training before they can be expected to be successful at the implementation and integration of a new educational model of any type, and especially one that is entirely different from the one they have been used to.

It is also striking that parents are sometimes not included in the decisions to change direction in education; nor are they necessarily informed. Parents of older students, according to the research, sometimes feel their children may learn less in a multi-age classroom, while parents of younger ones worry that their children might be challenged too intensely. Loss of confidence in learning abilities is also a concern. Again, though, such concerns are usually rational, and can be addressed and lessened with the right supports.

Research has demonstrated that parents who are more involved in school life are usually the ones who prefer to have their children in multi-age classrooms. At the same time, the involvement of parents can produce multi-age classrooms that are full of privileged and wealthy students, with the possibility that the group becomes less diverse, and thus not in keeping with a philosophy of multi-age education programs.

If American classrooms are truly going to change to a more inclusive, supportive place for all students, parents must be open to the shift. This is true with  multi-age philosophies and so many others when it comes to educational outcomes for students.

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