Not many people pay attention to the school board election, and if they do it’s generally a concern about; “Reformers” versus “The Union,” charter versus public school, testing, drop out rates and teacher accountability. I could write at length on any of these topics, but there is only one constant, proven decade after decade, in any state, to improve student performance; lower class size.
For all the talk about data driven outcomes, this one proven concept is ignored. With the current climate of charters, increased testing, and expensive intervention programs, resources are spread ever thinner, causing class sizes to increase.
Unfortunately, class size is not a priority for our elected or appointed school officials. Lower class size would remedy all of the aforementioned issues. Lower class size allows students to access the limited amount of technology in classrooms. It enables teachers and counselors to get to know their students, and allows time to focus on students individually, to provide them the services they or their family needs. Behavior issues dissipate, or are remedied quicker. Lines of communication between home and school are opened up. It gives teachers the freedom to create long term, project based learning. Strengths and weaknesses of individual students are known and discussed by all the student’s teachers, not represented by a number on a spreadsheet from a test taken six months prior. Weaker students and teachers are more easily identified, and given the tools they need to improve.
There will inevitably be those who accuse me, a teacher for twelve years, of just wanting to lighten my workload. They are right, I do want to lighten my load, so that I can focus on those students I see slipping through the cracks but am powerless to help, so I can write grants for more technology, so I can run an after-school club properly, explore new technology, stay in touch with parents--to do what I was hired to do to the best of my ability.
But that’s not what motivated me to blog about this topic. I recently heard from a former student, a good one, about her struggles with class size in a local high school. She had asked about a teacher who used to volunteer with my students through the Run L.A. program, and as is often the answer about the fate of my coworkers; this teacher was laid off. Here is my former student’s reply:
“I know how it is to watch teachers go. We saw roughly 54 teachers leave us last year due to the budget cuts and have seen the class sizes double. Kids sit on stools at lab stations, some squeeze in six to a table, or sit on chairs next to the wall with no desk. It's a horrible thing to be in those kinds of classes.
My largest class contains about forty-six kids, and is filled to the brink with kids who don't belong there, or don't want to be there, but have no other choice due to the over-flow. It's as if growing up isn't hard enough but now you have to worry about actually getting the classes you need to graduate. The school system makes it unfair to kids like me who want to get ahead. Since my sophomore year, I have pestered the counselors about trying to get into a simple class like health in order to fulfill that requirement for high school to no avail. Hopefully I can get it next year, or I'm screwed.
Somehow, I feel as though the school is a ship, and we're sinking slowly. I don't know whether to jump off or stay to the end and hope for a rescue boat. However, not all the aspects of high school are bad. I have really good teachers who haven't let this whole ordeal get to them ….”
How can we layoff teachers yet spend millions on iPads, tests, intervention programs, give away public funds and buildings when this is a successful student’s experience? It doesn’t matter if you have iPads, computerized testing or breakfast served by your teacher; what matters is teachers and students making personal connections, and that is lost in the current education debate. Lower class sizes work, successful school districts know and practice this. Why doesn’t ours?
Everyone with an educational product to sell has hijacked large city school districts, and our election. “Reform” has gotten us off track from what really works, a lower student/teacher ratio. This election season I encourage voters to take back the conversation from “the reformers” and call on your elected officials to do what is proven to work, lower class size.
March 5, please vote for Robert Skeels in District 2, and Steve Zimmer in District 4. They have a proven track record of working for students instead of campaign donors.