18 April 2011

Does class size matter?

Oh, hey there.

I have an article I want you to read. Now, I know that generally, when I ask you to read an article it's dry and boring. This one might be those things, I don't know. However, I do know that it made me think, and that's not all that common. Normally when I read things written by charter or privitazation advocates, I just get angry. I expected that to be the case in this situation. I expected to react violently to her mere thesis.

Instead, I scratched my head, tilted my head to the side like a confused dog, and actually thought for a moment.

By this point, you're wondering what this article could be about. You're confused that your humble author would admit to opening his mind, and consider other opinions. You're hopeful that the article is about something really, really groundbreaking.

Perhaps it is, but for that to be proven (or disproven), perhaps I should get around to linking to the article. Here, read it for yourself.

Interesting conceit, no? She puts forth a very logical argument, and one that, as an educator, I can see as making sense. She doesn't go on and on about performance pay or merit hires and fires (unlike many of her "fire 'em all" cohorts). In fact, as I previously admitted, she makes a lot of good and salient points, even if she does take a cheap shot at the teachers' unions.

Her school uses those per pupil funds pretty well. They build better classrooms, they hire people to do non-education things, so that educators can do what we're best at, and educate children.

There are several small issues, however. She bases her numbers on New York's per pupil funding. In New York, schools evidently recieve $13,500 per student. Since she runs a charter school, that's probably all of the money they get.  In Colorado, where I teach, the number is a lot closer to $6500. That means that for everything she can do with one extra student, we must have two.

She also doesn't address the problem of diminishing returns for her strategy. At some point, the money isn't worth the extra student. I already have classes that average over 30. I know it might not seem like a big deal to those of you who are just looking at numbers, but adding 2 students to that class would make a significant difference, especially at the high school level. Remember, every high school teacher actually teaches 7 classes (or 6 if they're lucky). So, adding 2 students per class is actually adding 14 students to the teacher's work load. 14 more essays. 14 more tests.

However, for all of that quibling, I will agree that being fixated on class size can do considerable harm. It is only one of many things that schools must look at. Indeed, I think her editorial puts into stark relief one of my most significant beliefs about school reform. No, not that we should "trust the experts", but that one reform might not work everywhere.

You see, there is danger in seeing what Ms. Moskowitz has achieved and saying to ourselves, "By gum! That's the solution we've been looking for this whole time! Bigger classes!" (although, since I am a lecturer, this would play into my hands. Excellent.) That danger is the general danger of school reform. If we're willing to move away from the traditional socialization role of schools (and it appears that we are), then we must protect our students from the urge to look for magic bullets. Yes, these reforms and plans work in Harlem, but will they work in Houston? In Hell (Michigan)? In Helena?

We must realize that students are the products of their upbringing and surroundings. Therefore, school reforms must be tailored to the experiences of the local community to really have great success. 

1 comment:

  1. Just wrote a super long comment that didn't go through and then erased. Can't compose it again now, but will try to get back later! Thanks for sharing this.