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When should kids get serious about education?

For two years, the Legislature has dealt with bills to require remediation in the seventh and eighth grades for students who are failing classes.Those in grades 9-12 have a built-in incentive in the nature of graduation requirements. If they don't pass, they don't graduate.

Last year, the Legislature passed a bill requiring that middle and junior high school students also pass core classes before they are advanced to the next grade.

This winter, the issue is back. An attempt to remove the 7th-8th grade remediation provisions didn't make any headway, but legislators struggled with how best to make the mandate work.

School officials who, in the end, must apply the legislative edict, have reported problems in establishing remediation programs for 7th and 8th graders. Many parents have not been supportive and many refuse to pay the fee that is necessary to underwrite the costs.

The amendments tacked onto the bill this year will address some of those problems, but may shift the responsibility for junior high school remediation to senior high school in some instances.

Rep. Joseph Hull, D-Hooper, is an educator who deals first hand with the students in question. Attitudes in junior/middle high school range from apathy to outright rebellion, he told the House Education Committee.

These early adolescents are in a confused, fragile, and difficult stage of life at best. There is no incentive to do well in school - rather, no disincentive for not doing well. There have been no consequences if they fail. With few exceptions, they move on through the system.

Many of them have concluded that they can float through 7th and 8th grades and not buckle down to serious study until they hit high school with its graduation requirements.

"Up until now, we've had the graduation carrot to lure kids in grades 9 through 12 to attend school and earn credit. If they didn't fulfill their credit requirements, they couldn't graduate," Hull said. "But our 7th and 8th graders have been left by the wayside. No learning is forced to take place."

As amended, the law would require junior/middle high students only to make up that part of a subject they failed, rather than a full class.

It also allows them to move on to high school, where the remediation is expected to take place before they continue on with the high school curriculum.

Dr. Raymond Whittenburg of Jordan District, who has led a drive to make the remediation workable, thinks that might not be acceptable to high schools, where remedial teachers will be expected to work in both junior and senior high school curricula.

But it's better than the alternative of dropping expectations for junior/middle remediation entirely.

Not only should youngsters in the middle grades be expected to perform up to a standard, but in a really good educational system, children from first grade on would be required to absorb the basic core curriculum for their level before being promoted to the next.

To continue to allow children to move from grade to grade without the necessary foundation on which to build the next step is a disservice to them and to the society that underwrites the cost of education.

Remediation doesn't cost nearly as much as dropping out or emerging from the system ill-prepared for the adult world of work.