It's the class size, stupid: Metro NY
It’s the class size, stupid
my view by Neil DeMause
December 1, 2008
For public school parents, last week’s declaration by Gov. Paterson that next year’s state budget will include massive education cuts had to send chills down their spines. In a city where teachers have to beg parents for basic supplies, the prospect of even skimpier school budgets is the sort of thing that gets people researching parochial schools, if not other cities to move to.
It also should draw more attention to how the school system uses what money it already has. Last month, the city Independent Budget Office estimated that the Department of Education spends more than $100 million a year on “accountability” initiatives — in other words, those school “progress reports” whose letter grades have so confused parents citywide.
What’s that in real classroom terms? According to one estimate, it costs about $90 million a year to reduce class sizes citywide by one. And smaller class sizes — unlike school report cards — are proven to work. One Tennessee study that randomly assigned grade-school students to either large or small classes found the small-class kids overwhelmingly did better on everything from test scores to having fewer disciplinary problems, and kept on doing better as they went on to college and adult life. Even racial disparities were down.
It’s why a court — in the landmark Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit a few years back — ordered the state to give more money to city schools, specifically to cut class sizes to suburban levels. Unfortunately, the settlement had two fatal flaws: The additional pool of money didn’t defend against overall funding cuts; and nobody was checking to see how the money was spent.
Leonie Haimson, head of the Manhattan-based Class Size Matters, says the result was that the Bloomberg administration hired more teachers, but mostly not in classrooms: “It’s created lots of data coaches and intervention specialists, without doing anything significant for class size.”
A stated goal of the city’s “accountability” spending, she notes, is to “differentiate instruction” — but “if you have 25 to 35 kids in a class, it’s very hard to differentiate instruction no matter how much data you have on where they’re falling behind.” It’s a lesson city officials seem to have a hard time learning.
by neil demause
Class Size Matters
124 Waverly Pl.
New York , NY 10011
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