Lawmaker’s push to flunk kids who can’t read likely to fail


Joe Jordan | Nebraska Watchdog

A controversial plan to flunk third-graders who can’t read appears to be going nowhere.

State Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh who pushed the idea during a public hearing Tuesday heard one opponent after another thank him for worrying about kids but also said no thanks to “mandatory retention.”

As Nebraska Watchdog has reported exclusively flunking has become old school at best. According to our investigation:

  • Two years ago out of 3,347 seventh-graders in Omaha Public Schools one flunked: that’s right one.
  • That same year one fifth-grader flunked; one out of 3,719 fellow fifth-graders.
  • Last year, from kindergarten through eighth grade, there were 36,106 OPS students: 140 flunked. That’s 0.4 percent or 0.004
  • For the 2012-2013 school year 38 percent of OPS third-graders —down from 46 percent in 2009-2010—did not meet the state’s reading standards.
  • That means out of 4,054 third-graders 1,541 came up short on reading proficiency.
  • How many of those third-graders flunked? Six.

“We are doing (students) harm by passing them along without requisite reading skills,” says Laughtenbaugh.

The northwest Omaha senator’s plan would require schools to offer “accelerated reading intervention programs” for K-3 students who are struggling to read.

But educators and parents told the Legislature’s Education Committee “holding kids back” isn’t the answer and does more harm than good.

“Retention is not a good strategy,” Carla Noerrlinger, OPS Executive Director for Research, tells Nebraska Watchdog.

Linda Darling-Hammond, Professor of Education at Stanford, has fought flunking for years.

“Students who are held back actually do worse in the long run than comparable students who are promoted,” she wrote in 1998.

While he waits for the Education Committee to grade his bill—from the questions committee members asked it appears to be going nowhere—Lautenbaugh can’t help but wonder when school reform is more than just talk.

“There is a point at which you have to act,” he told the committee.

Contact Joe Jordan at and listen to Joe every Monday morning at 7:40 on KFAB radio in Omaha.

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