When a child who has been through kindergarten and the first three years of elementary school can't read, the child has not failed. The adults in his or her life have failed the child.
If that's the premise for Fayette County Public Schools Superintendent Tom Shelton's push to ensure student readiness for the higher grades, count us in.
If there's a clear expectation that schools should never "hold back" a student, but should always be moving each student forward from where he or she is intellectually, we're on board. "Continuous progress" should be the watchword.
We're with Shelton if his push comes with an understanding that a child who isn't learning won't learn if schools keep teaching him or her the same way that hasn't worked.
And if everyone recognizes that the kind of early intervention we're talking about will require extra resources, and is willing to provide those resources, it's all good.
We appreciate Shelton's desire to get this difficult discussion rolling.
The terms "held back" and "social promotion" carry so much stigma and provoke so much emotion they impede a rational discussion.
Such terms also are not very useful in the present-day context of what we know about early childhood, brain development, learning disabilities, the effects of poverty, individualized instruction and strategies for closing achievement gaps.
Perhaps one of the biggest challenges is learning more useful ways to think and talk about learning and children.
Shelton's not in a hurry. He envisions a year-long discussion involving all segments of the community.
One of the things necessary for a useful discussion will be knowing how many children enter fourth grade without the foundation they need in reading and math to succeed in school. Also, how will we measure that?
"I'm sure there will be some pushback, but I'm determined to get a conversation going on this," Shelton told the Herald-Leader's Jim Warren. "I think it's a conversation we should have if we want all our students to be college- and career-ready when they graduate."
He's right. We'll know we've succeeded if the attention and programs provided to affected students and families feel not like a penalty but a bonus.