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?


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