Ever since taking a stake in my school, I’ve been very strict about failing students. Experience has taught me how necessary it is to fail the students who should fail.

A long time ago, when I was at a large chain school, I wasn’t allowed to fail students. Due to business reasons that were incomprehensible at the time, I had to just keep giving students re-test after re-test until they passed. After passing them, these students would drag the entire class’s progress to a snail’s pace over the next semester. Invariably, those same students ended up failing the next semester. Letting them continue was not only bad for their classmates, but it hurt their learning too.

Now, I have a better understanding of how my old boss felt. Many parents are simply too proud to accept the idea of their child repeating a semester. Many would take their children to a different school, rather than let them repeat a semester. Their reaction is even stronger than that of parents who can’t accept the results of entrance tests.

I know first hand the business costs of actually failing students. I fail about 15% of the students in each class every semester, and those that fail are more likely to quit our school than those who pass. I’ve probably lost over a dozen students who would have stayed if I hadn’t made them repeat a semester. Especially for a small school without external funding, that hurts.

However, the benefits of failing them are clear– the rest of a class can move more quickly without them, and they can learn more in a class that’s suited to their level. In the long run, the superior quality of education provided does lead to more new students.

Considering my goals of putting education first, I’ve been very, very strict about failing students. Anyone who fails a semester test has to drop down a level, as does anyone who fails a smaller test and two subsequent retests. But this week, I let a student continue after failing two retests of a smaller test.

She told me that she really wanted to stay in her class. She offered to do extra work. Her parents had nothing to do with it. She was motivated to work harder, so that she could keep learning at a faster pace. That was hard to say no to. If she really is self-motivated, she’ll probably do fine. If not, then she’ll fail the next final test and drop down a level then.