On the Success of Failure

This book is about the practice of grade retention in elementary school, a particularly vexing problem in urban school systems, where upward of half the students may repeat a grade. On the Success of Failure addresses whether repeating a grade is helpful or harmful when children are not keeping up. It describes the school context of retention and evaluates its consequences by tracking the experiences of a large, representative sample of Baltimore school children from first grade through high school. In addition to evaluating the consequences of retention, the book describes the cohort’s dispersion along many different educational pathways from first grade through middle school, the articulation of retention with other forms of educational tracking (like reading group placements in the early primary grades and course-level assignments in middle school), and repeaters’ academic and school adjustment problems before they were held back.

• Provides a comprehensive evaluation of the effects of grade retention over the elementary and middle school years • Examines the consequences of retention on high school dropout • Tracks the experiences of a large, representative sample of Baltimore school children from first grade through high school


Preface to the second edition; 1. Grade retention: lingering questions; 2. Research on grade repetition: strong opinions, weak evidence; 3. Retainees in the ‘beginning school study’; 4. Children’s pathways through the elementary and middle school years: retention+; 5. Characteristics and competencies of repeaters: who is held back?; 6. Achievement scores before and after retention; 7. Adjusted achievement comparisons: the need for controlled comparisons and the multiple-regression approach; 8. Academic performance as judged by teachers: report card marks before and after retention; 9. The stigma of retention; 10. Retention in the broader context of elementary and middle school tracking; 11. Dropout in relation to grade retention; 12. The retention puzzle: problem, solution, or signal?; Appendix: authors meet critics, belatedly.


Praise for the first edition: ‘This is the first book I have seen that sheds light on the failed social promotion reform. This well researched book intersects with reality and will be enthusiastically embraced by parents, teachers, and principals.’ Jim Grant, Executive Director, Society for Developmental Education

‘Should not only provoke new research but open the minds of policy analysts and educators to the value of clear, rigorous standards. It should also help shatter the assumptions that city kids can’t be expected to learn and that little can be expected of them.’ Herbert J. Walberg, University of Illinois at Chicago and the Hoover Institution, Stanford University