If class size doesn’t matter, why do the charter schools list it as a key selling point?

July 18, 2013

Classroom in Edgewood ISD, San Antonio, Texas, in 2010. Photo by Bob Daemmrich

Classroom in Edgewood ISD, San Antonio, Texas, in 2010. Republican legislators want more classrooms like this one, crowded, to save money paying teachers and heating the rooms. Or maybe they have a real reason — it can’t be a good one. What’s the ratio, three kids to one desk? Did one kid fail to shower this morning.  Texas Tribune photo, by Bob Daemmrich

Steven Zimmer, a member of the board of the under-assault Los Angeles Unified School District, lays it on the line:  Class size is important, and legislative efforts to expand class size in public schools are intended to sabotage public schooling — and that action harms students.

Description of the video at YouTube from the OTL Campaign:

Small class size isn’t about protecting teachers’ jobs or making their work easier — it’s about providing every student with quality attention in the classroom. Steve Zimmer, Board Member of the Los Angeles Unified School District and a former teacher, asks why we tolerate or dismiss crowded public school classrooms when charters and private schools use small class sizes as a selling point?

More:

 J. D. Crowe cartoon from the Mobile, Alabama, Press-Register.

“OK, Class . . . How many of you are students adn how many are teacher consultants?” J. D. Crowe cartoon from the Mobile, Alabama, Press-Register, August 18, 2009.

“It could be worse — this could be a public school classroom during budget cuts.” Cartoon by Mike Keefe, Denver Post, March 18, 2011

 


“Dark day” in Dallas: Republican War on Education creates hundreds of casualties

April 29, 2011

Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s War on Education created hundreds of casualties today in Dallas Independent School District.  Though the Texas Lege has not approved a final budget, the best case scenario at the moment targets hundreds of jobs in Dallas, and tens of thousands of jobs across Texas.

Dallas ISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa sent out this message today:

A message from Superintendent of Schools Michael Hinojosa

Earlier today, the district’s administration began the painful process of notifying hundreds of central staff employees that their positions are being eliminated effective immediately. The individuals impacted are good, hard-working people from all departments who have dedicated years of talent and expertise to this school district. They have been colleagues for a long time and they will be missed. While many of them may not have directly worked with children in the classroom, their contributions were nonetheless important in the life of the Dallas Independent School District.

It is highly regrettable that the statewide budget deficit has forced the district to take this drastic course. While many positions are being eliminated, the work is not. Those employees who remain will have an increased burden without extra pay. Please be patient with those who remain on staff in an effort to serve you, parents and the general public.

Today’s action was taken to protect instruction on our campuses as much as possible from the upcoming budget deficit. All totaled, with the layoffs, reassignments, vacancies that will remain unfilled and the number of central staff employees who took the early notification incentive, hundreds of positions have been eliminated from central administration, which will save the district roughly $25 million.

It should be noted that this is the third time in the last four years that Dallas ISD’s central administration staff has been cut. During 2007, 169 central staff positions were eliminated when central services were reorganized. During the fall of 2008, another 160 central staff positions were eliminated because of the district shortfall at the time.

The district is in a financial predicament this time through no fault of our own and we are continuing to work with lawmakers to attempt to minimize cuts to classrooms. At the same time, it appears more likely than ever that Dallas ISD is facing a deficit this next school year of anywhere from $88 million to $126 million. Please continue to press upon state legislators that our work as public school educators is critical to students both now and in the future.

Today is a dark day in our school district and that’s putting it mildly. To those who remain part of Dallas ISD, thank you for your continued hard work on behalf of our students.

Six years ago the Texas Lege cut property taxes, a huge boost to large property owners and those with very expensive tracts of land.  However, the Lege then failed to institute promised new taxes on businesses.  With annual budget shortfalls resulting, contrary to Gov. Perry’s 2010 campaign promises, Texas ended up with a $27 billion deficit in 2011.  Rather than impose new taxes on those who profited from the tax cuts, Rick Perry proposed to fire teachers and close schools.

The Texas budget proposals directly counteract efforts by the Federal Reserve to increase jobs in the nation.

Those firings started today, in Dallas.  Teachers are not included, yet.


Class size debate heats up; does size matter?

March 2, 2009

Several states tried to reduce class size, but generally class sizes have not been reduced and are increasing again.

So, does class size affect student achievement?

The New York Times featured a story about a week ago on class size creeping up in New York City; and now there are comments in the letters section.

At recent legislative hearings on whether to renew mayoral control of the New York City schools, lawmakers and parents alike have asked, again and again, why Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel I. Klein have not done more to reduce class size. On Tuesday, the Education Department issued a report that found the average number of children per class increased in nearly every grade this school year.

“If you’re going to spend an extra dollar, personally, I would always rather spend it on the people that deliver the service,” Mr. Bloomberg said when asked about the report on Thursday, calling class size “an interesting number.”

“It’s the teacher looking a child in the eye, and teachers can look lots of children in the eye,” he added. “If you have to have smaller class size or better teachers, go with the better teachers every time.”

Is that even the issue?

Does class size matter?  Can a great teacher teach 40 students in a class, 200 students a day, better than a mediocre teacher can teach a smaller number?

How could we possibly know?


Storefront schools

June 16, 2008

Why not?

In comments to the immediately previous post, Zhoen says segregation by gender is no panacea for education. But, she wonders at OneWord: Why not storefront schools?

For many years, I have thought the never-will-be-done answer was to have storefront schools. One room schoolhouses, two teachers and a local adult volunteer, no more than a dozen students, all online classes – a national, self paced, curricula. Touring experts and scholars for special lectures and demonstrations. Kid has a problem with a particular teacher, move ’em to the next neighborhood over. Walking distances from their homes, field trips common (easier to arrange with small groups), flexible schedules (let the teens sleep in). A circle of homeschools in rural areas instead of warehouses to haul whole populations into.

Why not? The idea strikes me as similar to Japanese juku, private schools for kids in public schools, where kids get remedial attention or advanced instruction, depending on what they need. I copy the Library of Congress’ description of juku after the fold.

What do you think? Is there an example of storefront schools we can cite either way, for or against the idea?

Comment away.

Read the rest of this entry »


Does gender-separated schooling work better?

June 16, 2008

Even public school districts toy with the idea of separating genders in the primary and secondary grades.  Some people argue that there is experimental evidence to support the plan, plus there are the arguments about physical differences between the genders, which suggest different educational strategies for girls than for boys.

The No Child Left Behind Act requires schools to implement programs that are supported by research.  Is there solid research to support separating the genders?

Apart from the hoaxes, such as the much ballyhooed “Crokus” in boys brains, the evidence for separating the genders based on physical differences may be a lot slimmer than advocates claim.

For example, do boys really hear differently from girls?   Are the physical differences so great?  Consider the opening paragraph for a lengthy article on the issue by Elizabeth Weil, in The New York Times Magazine last March:

On an unseasonably cold day last November in Foley, Ala., Colby Royster and Michael Peterson, two students in William Bender’s fourth-grade public-school class, informed me that the class corn snake could eat a rat faster than the class boa constrictor. Bender teaches 26 fourth graders, all boys. Down the hall and around the corner, Michelle Gay teaches 26 fourth-grade girls. The boys like being on their own, they say, because girls don’t appreciate their jokes and think boys are too messy, and are also scared of snakes. The walls of the boys’ classroom are painted blue, the light bulbs emit a cool white light and the thermostat is set to 69 degrees. In the girls’ room, by contrast, the walls are yellow, the light bulbs emit a warm yellow light and the temperature is kept six degrees warmer, as per the instructions of Leonard Sax, a family physician turned author and advocate who this May will quit his medical practice to devote himself full time to promoting single-sex public education.

Mark Liberman, who writes at Language Log, deals with these issues dispassionately, and scientifically.  He started a policy of publishing on the blog questions that he gets from journalists on the issues.  Here’s his first published answer, for example, and as you can see, it’s a bit of an information-loaded doozy:

1. I’ve read a few posts on Language Log, but please tell me more about what you think about Dr. Sax’s arguments about sex-based differences in the brain?

In his books, Leonard Sax is a political activist using science to make a case, not a scientist evaluating a hypothesis.

Science is sometimes on his side, sometimes neutral or equivocal, and sometimes against him. He picks the results that fit his agenda, ignoring those that don’t; and all too often, he misunderstands, exaggerates or misrepresents the results that he presents.

There’s detailed support for these assertions in some Language Log posts from 2006:

David Brooks, cognitive neuroscientist” (6/12/2006)
Are men emotional children?” (6/24/2005)
Of rats and (wo)men” (8/19/2006)
Leonard Sax on hearing” (8/22/2006)
More on rats and men and women” (8/22/2006)
The emerging science of gendered yelling” (9/5/2006)
Girls and boys and classroom noise” (9/9/2006)

This doesn’t mean that his conclusions are false, but it does mean that his appeals to science are not trustworthy.

More nuance than some policy groups might be able to deal with, but enough information to direct a genuinely interested person to some good sources.

You’ll also want to read “Retinal Sex and Sexual Rhetoric,” and “Liberman on Sax on Liberman on Sax on Hearing.”

In our weekly staff meetings with then Assisstant Secretary of Education for Research Chester W. Finn, at the old Office for Educational Research and Information, Finn often opened the meetings by turning to the Director of Research and asking whether, in the past week, we had learned how people learn.  When satisfied that this key breakthrough had not been achieved in the previous week, which would change much of what we did, Finn would say something like, “Now that we know we don’t know what we’re doing, let’s go through the agenda.”

Keeping an appropriate sense of humor about the issue, Finn still provided sharp reminders that the science behind learning, for all of the volumes available, is very tenuous and thin.

When science is so thin, the policy side of the discipline can be waved around by a good presentation coupled with plausible sciency-sounding material.  “Plausible” does not equal “good,” and often it doesn’t even equal “accurate.”

Liberman’s critiques are detailed, and they point out questions that the average school board member or principal is probably ill-equipped to realize, let alone ask from an “expert” or consultant selling a program to the district.

Before we teach critical thinking to the kids, we need a lot more critical thinking from administrators.  Liberman tries to light the path to that critical thinking.

What do you think?  Does gender-separate education work better?  Are there such great differences in the learning abilities and methods of boys and girls that we ought to separate them?

What about other shibboleths we hear?  Classroom size?  Testing?  Delivery of material?  Difficulty of material?   Where is there good research for reforming our schools, for the better?


Education spending, per pupil, apples to apples

May 3, 2008

Utah rejected education vouchers last November, so the release from the Census bureau at the first of April probably got overlooked as not exactly important — I saw no major story on it in any medium.

Education spending chart from U.S. Census BureauMaybe it was the April 1 release date.

Whatever the reason for the lack of recognition, the figures are out from the Census Bureau, and Utah’s at the bottom end of spending per student lists, in the U.S. I wrote earlier that Utah gets a whale of a bargain, since teachers work miracles with the money they have. But miracles can only go so far. Utah’s educational performance has been sliding for 20 years. Investment will be required to stop the slide.

Utah’s per pupil spending is closer to a third that of New York’s.

Of course, spending levels do not guarantee results. New York and New Jersey lead the pack, but the District of Columbia comes in third place. Very few people I know would swap an education in Idaho, Utah or Arizona, the bottom three in per pupil spending, for an education in D.C.

Public Schools Spent $9,138 Per Student in 2006

School districts in the United States spent an average of $9,138 per student in fiscal year 2006, an increase of $437 from 2005, according to a U.S. Census Bureau report released today.

Public Education Finances: 2006 offers a comprehensive look at the revenues and expenditures of public school districts at the national and state levels. The report includes detailed tables that allow for the calculation of per pupil expenditures. Highlights from these tables include spending on instruction, support services, construction, salaries and benefits of the more than 15,000 school districts. Public school districts include elementary and secondary school systems.

All the census statistics are on-line, for free. Policy makers can mine these data for insights — will they? You may download the data in spreadsheet or comma-delimited data form.

The rest of the press release is pure policy talking points:

  • Public school systems received $521.1 billion in funding from federal, state and local sources in 2006, a 6.7 percent increase over 2005. Total expenditures reached $526.6 billion, a 6 percent increase. (See Table 1.)
  • State governments contributed the greatest share of funding to public school systems (47 percent), followed by local sources (44 percent) and the federal government (9 percent). (See Table 5.)
  • School district spending per pupil was highest in New York ($14,884), followed by New Jersey ($14,630) and the District of Columbia ($13,446). States where school districts spent the lowest amount per pupil were Utah ($5,437), Idaho ($6,440) and Arizona ($6,472). (See Tables 8 and 11.)
  • Of the total expenditures for elementary and secondary education, current spending made up $451 billion (85.7 percent) and capital outlay $59 billion (11.2 percent). (See Table 1.)
  • From current spending, school districts allotted $271.8 billion to elementary and secondary instruction. Of that amount, $184.4 billion (68 percent) went to salaries and $58.5 billion went to employee benefits (22 percent). Another $156 billion went to support services. (See Table 6.)
  • Of the $156 billion spent on support services, 28 percent went to operations and maintenance, and 5 percent went to general administration. Of the states that used 10 percent or more of their support services on general administration expenditures, North Dakota topped the list at 14 percent. General administration includes the activities of the boards of education and the offices of the superintendent. (See Table 7.)
  • Of the $59 billion in capital outlay, $45 billion (77 percent) was spent on construction, $5 billion (8 percent) was spent on land and existing structures, and $8.7 billion (15 percent) went to equipment. (See Table 9.)
  • State government contributions per student averaged $5,018 nationally. Hawaii had the largest revenue from state sources per pupil ($13,301). South Dakota had the least state revenue per student ($2,922). (See Table 11.)
  • The percentage of state government financing for public education was highest in Hawaii (89.9 percent) and lowest in Nebraska (31.4 percent). (See Table 5.)
  • The average contribution per pupil from local sources was $4,779, with the highest amount from the District of Columbia ($16,195), which comprises a single urban district (and therefore does not receive state financing). The state with the smallest contribution from local sources was Hawaii ($265). (See Table 11).
  • The percentage of local revenue for school districts was highest in Illinois (59.1 percent) and lowest in Hawaii (1.8 percent). (See Table 5.)
  • On average, the federal government contributed $974 per student enrolled in public school systems. Federal contributions ranged from $2,181 per student in Alaska to $627 in Nevada (See Table 11).
  • The percentage of public school system revenues from the federal government was highest in Mississippi (20.1 percent) and lowest in New Jersey (4.3 percent). (See Table 5.)
  • Spending on transportation represented 12.4 percent of support services. New York and West Virginia spent the largest percent from support services on transportation (21 percent). Hawaii (5.4 percent) and California (7.2 percent) spent the least. (See Table 7.)
  • Total school district debt increased by 8.5 percent from the prior year to $322.7 billion in fiscal year 2006. (See Table 10.)
  • Send an apple to your old teacher:

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Treat teachers like bankers?

June 7, 2007

A reader named Sam left this comment, in response to my post on teachers being overworked and underpaid, and I elevate it because it demonstrates, once again, how teachers get dumped on in ways that other professions don’t; Sam makes a good point:

It would be interesting to take into effect that teaching is one of the few jobs where people expend large quantities of their own money to do their job. I was a principal in a large urban district before I left education for a private sector consulting job. Part of the reason I left was the paper rationing that occurred during my last two years on the job. Our school district limited our teachers to three sheets of paper per student per week in an attempt to cut costs. Even the best, most engaging hands-on learning takes more than three sheets per week. Add in the lunch menus, report cards, and parent letters that need to go home and it would guarantee that our paper supply usually ran dry by March 1 or so and my teachers ending up buying their own paper.

Could you imagine the uproar that would occur in the mortgage department of a bank if suddenly employees were required to buy their own copy paper? Why is that acceptable for our teachers?

The U.S. Internal Revenue Service even has a specific standard deduction for teachers to use to cover the materials they take to the classroom, that would be supplied by other employers, that should be supplied by the schools. Isn’t it odd that we make provisions in the tax code to try to offset this error, rather than try to fix it?


How it’s done right

June 1, 2007

If I need a lift, I go here. It’s how school should be — probably all the way through.

I don’t know the details of how or why this class is set up the way it is, but day after day they do things that other people use as textbook examples of what a good classroom ought to be doing, sometimes. And they do it day, after day, after day.

Carnival of Education, are you paying attention?

Wow.

I wager right now that these kids will be the top performers on the standardized tests for at least the next five years, in their classrooms and schools. The Living Classroom weblog is a valuable chronicle for how to provide quality education.

Somebody should step up with the money to track how these kids do, especially against their contemporaries. Alas, this is exactly the sort of information that will be lost, due to “lack of funding.” Fortunately, one of the women involved in the classroom made the chronicles, and shared them.

Side note: Looking at the photos, ask yourself, “Does our town offer these types of recreational facilities for use?” Washington has traditionally led the nation in setting aside land for public recreational use — this class has taken full advantage of being in a town that had the foresight to put up public art and public beaches, and other public parks and places. There is a lesson here for city planners, and for mayors and city councils who wonder how they might support their schools, run by other governmental entities.

Dandelion, class activitiy for The Living Classroom


Looking up to Finland

May 30, 2007

Commenter Bernarda sent a link to a Washington Post story by Robert Kaiser about Finland, a nation who redesigned its education system with rather dramatic, beneficial results. Among other things, the Finns treat teachers as valuable members of society, with high pay, great support, and heavy training.

Finland is a leading example of the northern European view that a successful, competitive society should provide basic social services to all its citizens at affordable prices or at no cost at all. This isn’t controversial in Finland; it is taken for granted. For a patriotic American like me, the Finns present a difficult challenge: If we Americans are so rich and so smart, why can’t we treat our citizens as well as the Finns do?

Why not? Why can’t we treat our citizens as well as the Finns? Their system boosts their economy and leads to great social progress — which part of that do we not want?


Inherent evils of public education

May 11, 2007

Public schools have serious problems.  Regular readers here should know me as a defender of public education, especially in the Thomas Jefferson/James Madison model of a foundation stone for a free people and essential tool for good government in a democratic republic.

Can you take another view?  Here’s one that should offer serious material for thought:  How the Public School System Crushes Souls.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Pick the Brain.


Send me these kids, please

April 20, 2007

Lucky will be the teacher who gets the kids from The Living Classroom.  I wager they’ll be eagar to learn, and that they’ll set the pace in good behaviors and academic achievement in future classes — unless someone throttles it out of them later.

For now it’s a bunch carrying a lot of hope to some lucky teachers next year.  Check out this post, “All the Beauty We Can Find in Just One Day,” and this one, “My School.”


Notes from the Sub Terrain: Basketball class

March 27, 2007

Notes from the Sub Terrain is an occasional — okay, spasmodic — set of observations from a certified teacher working as a substitute.

Basketball class

The assignment said “upper level, basic biology.” But upon arriving at the school the Sub learned the teacher to be replaced was one of the basketball coaches. The school’s team had won in the state playoffs the previous night, and the coach was assigned to scout the next week’s opposition in a game on the other end of the state. Cool.

Oh — except for this: The first hour was basketball, in the gym. The Sub wasn’t dressed for it, the Sub doesn’t play much basketball, let alone coach it. Worse, the assignment had said nothing about a first hour – the bell had just rung, and The Sub was late. What room? “Green Gym.”

Where is the Green Gym? the Sub asked. “I have no clue,” the substitute coordinator said. There are several gyms, but they are not in exactly the same place. “I think it’s near the arena.”

Trudging to the attendance office, the Sub got crude directions. Only 10 minutes late so far.

Found the Green Gym. 22 students were dutifully engaged in four different games of basketball. Notes from the coach said the students should play “pick-up” games for the period.

As the Sub walked into the gym, two students from the full-court games broke off and ran over, volunteering to help with attendance, so no roll would need to be called. There were no absences. Attendance took a couple of minutes, and the students went back to their games.

Every few minutes one of the teams in one of the games would hit 21, or some other magic number, and the game would end. When two or more games ended, the students designated different teams and went at it again. After about 20 minutes someone yelled something about getting enough water, and the students took breaks individually to get a drink.

The Sub recognized many of the kids. They were, many of them, troublemakers in other classes. Here they made no trouble. Disputes about fouls were settled quickly and amicably, and the games went go on. Good shots, or good defensive plays got vocal approval from all quarters. Hot dogging got jeers: “Just play!”

For 70 minutes the games rolled quickly. Then, without prompting, one of the students rolled out a ball cart, put a couple of balls away and headed to the locker room. Within three minutes all the balls were on the cart, the cart went into a closet, the lights were turned out and the gymnasium was empty.

The Sub wants to know why all classes can’t be that way, with the students doing the work, willingly and happily, without complaint, without prompting or prodding, and finishing and cleaning up on time.

The Sub noted that most of the students did not shower, but instead masked themselves in clouds of Axe body spray, which the Sub thought unhygienic.

The Sub said he later learned that the class was the junior varsity basketball team, mostly. He said the discipline they showed was impressive.

The varsity team won their next playoff game, and headed to the state tournament. The Sub said that if they are as disciplined in the big things as the junior varsity players are in little things on the basketball floor, they will win the state championship.

How can we restructure other classes to get the benefits of student self-discipline? the Sub wonders. Why don’t the students make the connection that discipline makes them champions in one area, and strive for similar discipline in other areas?

Why don’t the teachers, coaches and administrators make the same connection?


Utah’s legislature boosts education across the board

February 27, 2007

Gifted with a surplus of funds due to a good economy, the Utah legislature hiked education spending in almost every category, providing pay increases for teachers, more teachers, more schools, more books, more computers — adding more than $450 million, raising the total state education check to $2.6 billion for elementary and secondary schools.

Much of the increases will be consumed by rising enrollments.

Through much of the 20th century Utah led the nation in educational attainment, but fell in state rankings as population growth accelerated especially through the 1980s and 1990s. The Salt Lake Tribune’s story sardonically noted:

The budget package increases per-pupil spending by more than 8 percent. But because other states may also boost school funds this year, fiscal analysts can’t yet say whether the new money will move Utah out of last place in the nation in money spent per student.

Classroom size reduction is excluded from the increases, because the legislature thinks earlier appropriations for that purpose were misused, according to the Associated Press story in the Casper (Wyoming) Star-Tribune:

The extra $450 million will have little effect on reducing classroom size, however, because even as Utah hires more teachers, every year brings more students.

Lawmakers said they were withholding money for reducing classroom sizes until legislative auditors can investigate reports that districts misappropriated some of the $800 million dedicated for that purpose since 1992.

Every teacher and librarian should get a $2,500 pay raise and a $1,000, one-time “thank-you” bonus. Starting pay for teachers in Utah averages barely over $26,000 now.

Read the rest of this entry »


Memories of a one-room school

January 28, 2007

Not just one room, but one room populated mainly by one family and cousins. Dying Man’s Journal has some reflections on a Canadian one-room school.

Some of my students could use such a school. It would be very good for them.

I am reminded that we learn so much  more than just the subjects taught, while we are in school.  A good school provides an education for life.


Funding still the key to education reform

November 19, 2006

Everyone is for it, no one wants to pay for it. Education reform still hits the wall when we ask “who pays?”

The Seattle Times said funding is the key to reform, in an editorial November 19:

THE education panel Washington Learns proposes a bold approach to injecting every level of education with rigor and accountability.

The elephant in the room, however, is education funding. Sidestepping this massive beast threatens the very underpinning of reform efforts. Gov. Christine Gregoire promised a new way of looking at education and investing in it. The smart, holistic proposals from her committee give us the former. Now, where’s the latter?

This is a critical question that won’t wait. The piecemeal approach to education spending — funding a program here, a program there — hasn’t served schools well and would crack under the weighty intentions of Washington Learns.

Meanwhile, Jonathan Kozol was at the University of Alaska in Anchorage a week earlier, and he pulled no punches:

“They say a good teacher can do OK with 40 kids, but they (those teachers) could work wonders with 18 kids,” he said.

Kozol said that today students are viewed with price tags on their heads and that equality in education is not a current reality.

“In the eyes of God, I’m sure all children are equal – but not in the eyes of America,” he said.

Now, there is an interesting indicator to measure whether God is in the schools: Money.

Both articles, in full, below the fold. Read the rest of this entry »


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