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Class-size reduction does work. Phonics too!

Submitted by on Wednesday, 27 October 2010 No Comment

The guys’ school had a problem at the beginning of the year, and we’re lucky that the district had the money to solve it.

Boots’ kindergarten class the first week of school had 27 kids. So did the rest of them. Within weeks, the district had hired another teacher, trimming the rosters to 23 per class. What a relief!

Relief? It’s more like a sick joke considering that 12 years ago 80 percent of California’s K-3 classes had less than 20 students. Just two years ago, when Big Guy was in kindergarten, 20 still was the gold standard. That was before millions were slashed from education budgets, ballooning some classes up to 30 kids. That’s an exception, though. Most hover around 25.

Rest in peace, class size reduction. You did a lot of good in your time, narrowing achievement gaps and improving test scores across the board – it’s all about the test score, isn’t it?

But you’re all but dead now, a victim of not only the economy but also of those who decry smaller classes as just an excuse to hire more teachers and increase the political power of the evil unions. It doesn’t work and it’s too expensive, claim the critics.

But they’re wrong.

Common sense tells you they’re wrong. Handling 30, 5-year-olds as opposed to 20? Anyone who can’t immediately see the difference has never been around young children.

Anecdotal evidence tells you they’re wrong. The bigger Big Guy’s class gets, the more time I spend reteaching the day’s lessons at home. Part of that’s because his mind has a tendency to wander.  But the other part is obvious – more students means less time for the teacher to spend with each.

Solid, empirical evidence tells you they’re wrong. Study after study – from Princeton, from the U.S. Department of Education, from Tennessee, from California, from England – says that class-size reduction makes a difference.

In fact, the Education Department says smaller classes is one of only four things that show consistent results in improved student performance. Phonics also is on that list. Remember phonics? That’s how we used to teach people to read before the corporate-driven sight word frenzy took hold.

But because we want to run schools “like a business” and use “solid data” to evaluate teachers and students – that has to be a multi-billion dollar industry for someone – we’re willing to overlook the proven and the obvious in our rush to pour money into corporate-run charter programs.

I can’t wait until the guys get to high school. They’ll probably be crammed into a room with 49 others, just like the good old days.

Copyright Debra Legg 2010. All rights reserved.

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