A high school teacher told me recently that her school allows students to try harder courses than they normally might take. For example, students might sign up for an Honors English class instead of a regular English class or an AP Government class instead of a normal Government class. These are big issues in secondary schools: who gets to take advanced / Honors / AP courses, who gets to be exposed to rigorous course content, and who doesn't. At first I thought that this was great, that here's a school that's trying to open up learning opportunities for students. But then my back brain registered how she talked about the school policy. She said that the school gives students "permission to fail." And that's when it all fell apart for me.
Permission to fail. What a horribly sad and depressing term. Does a permission to fail policy recognize that these kids might need a little extra support to be successful or does it simply thrust them into the challenging learning environment and say, "Good luck!"? Is a permission to fail policy premised on student success or on a belief that "these kids really can't do the work but we'll let them try because it looks and feels good" (to us, to parents, to the public)? Perceptions and beliefs shape reality. Will a permission to fail policy ever result in large numbers of successful students?
I left that school wishing it had a permission to succeed policy.