Does 8th-Grade Pomp Fit the Circumstance?

Jane Hoffman:

Andre Cowling, who just finished his first year as principal of Harvard Elementary, one of the poorest-performing schools in Chicago, said the South Side’s eighth-grade celebrations are like “Easter Sunday on steroids.”
In a speech last Sunday at a Chicago church, Barack Obama took on the pomp and purpose of these ceremonies. “Now hold on a second — this is just eighth grade,” he said. “So, let’s not go over the top. Let’s not have a huge party. Let’s just give them a handshake.” He continued: “You’re supposed to graduate from eighth grade.”
Mr. Obama was wading into a simmering debate about eighth-grade ceremonies and their attendant hoopla. Do they inspire at-risk students to remain in high school and beyond? Or do they imply finality?
While some educators are grateful that notice is still being paid to academic achievement, others deride the festivities as overpraising what should be routine accomplishment. Some principals, school superintendents and legislators are trying to scale back the grandeur. But stepping between parents and ever-escalating celebrations of their children’s achievements can be dicey, at best.