Editorial: No fail gets an F

If you are wondering if New Brunswick’s schools really have a no-fail policy, all you have to do is walk down Prospect Street in Fredericton, stick your head into any retail establishment and watch the kids at the cash registers try to make change.

We’re exaggerating, of course, but we believe it’s time to review the balance in our schools between children’s social well-being and their academic skills.

We say if the pendulum has swung too far towards social well-being and advancing with peer groups at the expense of learning how to read, write, add and subtract, then we have a serious problem.

NDP leader Dominic Cardy told a Brunswick News editorial board earlier this week that his government would eliminate the no-fail policy because it’s contributing to New Brunswick’s illiteracy problem.

“You can’t fail right now,” he said. “Right now you just get passed along.

“The NDP is going to end the practice of allowing students to graduate year on year without achieving some sort of standard.”

That complaint about being forced to promote students who have failed the course work matches what we have heard anecdotally from teachers.

 

A school education is like a brick wall, with each brick resting and building on the one below it. If a student doesn’t learn the basics of reading and math, they may catch up in later grades without specialized help — or they may not.

But Premier David Alward insists New Brunswick schools do not have a no-fail policy.

“Certainly in New Brunswick there are children who do, for various reasons, spend more than one year at a grade level,” he said.

We believe there is no piece of paper in the department of education at the top of which is written “New Brunswick’s No-Fail Policy.” But that doesn’t mean the practice doesn’t exist.

It should be easy to determine if it is being carried out. All the provincial government has to do is publish, without names, the grade-by-grade failure rate for each school district in the province for the past 10 or 20 years.

We would particularly like to see that information for Anglophone School District West which includes Fredericton schools.

We need experts to look at that data and do a formal review of the system.

In the rush to be kind to our children and build up their self-esteem — certainly understandable — we may have inadvertently hurt them.

School still has to educate.