It is well established that lowering class size, especially for K-3, can have a positive effect on students. The argument being made around the country, and illustrated well last night on Nashville’s Fox 17 news, is, do you want a small class size, or do you want a quality teacher?
In How to Win Every Argument: The Use and Abuse of Logic, Madsen Pirie discusses the bogus dilemma, where no matter which choice you make you wind up with a consequence.
Should small class size or a quality teacher be a choice parents should have to make?
It is even more unusual to suggest raising class size at the same time teachers are supposed to teach everyone the same controversial Common Core State Standards. How does any teacher differentiate instruction with a huge class size and a wide range of intellectual, cultural and social levels?
The FOX report last night centered on this outrageous debate. Governor Haslam seemed to be behind the scene, knowing perfectly well that the people of Tennessee have already rejected his idea to raise class size. It’s especially tough for the Governor to make this argument too, because the Tennessee STAR Study, some of the best educational research ever, took place in his backyard.
The STAR Study, done in the late ‘80s, found that reducing a K-3 class size from 23 to 15, results in students who perform better than students in regular sized classes. And the benefits persist as the child moves into later grades.
It is tough to argue with research like that, so the Gov. has to put a different spin on it. Either you get a quality teacher and a large class size, or you get a small class and a bad teacher. A lot of other governors and reformers, including Bill Gates, Arne Duncan and various reporters make this argument. They see class size reduction as costly. But don’t be fooled! They also see credentialed, experienced teachers as costly too. So beware of their argument.
If this isn’t odd enough and most disgraceful, the news feature last night used the example of a KIPP charter school as a school that, of course, scores high and apparently does it with high class sizes and what they define as quality teachers—which of course will include the fast-trackers for cheap pay.
But don’t forget—KIPP, unlike real public schools, gets more money per student, and can dismiss troublesome students, or students whose parents are not involved. They also are known for not taking on special ed. students. They are not well-equipped to do so.
Knowing all this, I still wonder why charter schools are called public schools and are compared to true public schools that must serve everybody. Oh yes…charter schools do get public money.
They are also stricter than ever with students—most of whom have no really bad behavior problems. KIPP is proud of their stern reputation. And did I mention they have high teacher turnover?
Including KIPP in the class size, quality teacher argument is unfair and disingenuous.
Public schools must take everyone, and class sizes do matter as we learned a long time ago with the STAR Study. It was briefly mentioned on the Fox channel, but then dismissed with the phony either or argument. It should be more front-and-center in this debate—which isn’t really a debate that should have to be made. We should have addressed class size better back in the ‘90s when the study was fresh.
The school reformers have never wanted to lower class sizes because they know that it is what parents want and it works. To have something that works in real public schools would mean you wouldn’t be able to shutter public schools and turn them into KIPPs.
Lowering class size works especially in K-3. In fact, if money is really the issue, instead of lowering class sizes across the board, in every class, at every grade level, the prudent thing to do would be to lower class sizes in just K-3. Give young children a great start with fully qualified teachers who can really get to know them and their unique learning difficulties.
For late elementary, middle and high school, I can see a good school instructional designer working to determine which classes could be larger, which smaller. It would just take some forethought and a little work at individual schools to determine student needs and scheduling.
It wouldn’t have to even cost much. Good principals and guidance counselors, and teachers, could figure it out. Why isn’t this approach tried? To me, that would be real reform—true innovation.
So beware of trick questions like this. Gov. Haslam, like a lot of Governors, wants large class sizes. He approached the people of Tennessee with the raising class size issue a while back and there were no takers. So now he is presenting them with a bogus argument.
There is no one-or-the-other. Children need small class sizes in K-3, reasonable class sizes in middle and high school, and good teachers. They would also benefit from some good politicians and policy makers.
One of the best websites on class size, Class Size Matters, is here. Check it out.