Sunday, January 23, 2011

Young: Lost in legislators' budget-cutting frenzy is the idea that class size matters

This is a really thoughtful piece by John Young. I want to highlight the line,
those who trivialize class size aren't as interested in student success as their dime-store slogans say

Something that comes to mind is how university faculty and doctoral students would cringe at the idea of graduate-level courses having the class sizes that we are unapologetically proposing to impose on children.

I hope the masses come out to voice their opinions on this issue.


John Young | Austin American-Statesman, Regular Contributor
Saturday, Jan. 22, 2011

With budget savings in view, the full-court press is on in state legislatures to deny that smaller class sizes help students do better.

Tight state budgets are forcing the "science," the rationalizing of larger class sizes. In reality, we are talking about the whims of policy makers who can only guess what it actually takes to "leave no child behind."

As a parent, it always was simple intuition to me that a smaller class made a difference. Then one day I saw it in reality — as a teacher.

My intuition now tells me that those who trivialize class size aren't as interested in student success as their dime-store slogans say.

In Texas, state Comptroller Susan Combs has advocated removing a long-mandated 22-1 student-teacher ratio in grades K-4. Her plan would eliminate 11,900 teaching positions statewide.

Combs' report states that classes with a 25-1 ratio "could operate without any loss of instructional effectiveness."

Well, it depends. What kind of class are we talking about? If the issue is the basic skills that second-graders need to compete with Taiwanese second-graders, Combs' claim is specious at best.

How do I know? Because I saw how a smaller class benefited one particular student on a basic skill in a rare snow day in the Sun Belt.

That February day, a dusting left Central Texas streets slippery. About half the students in my 8 a.m. developmental writing class at the community college stayed home.

Remarkably, among those who showed up was one I least expected. Call him Tony. Tony ultimately would not pass the course, for he would find just about any atmospheric event as grounds not to attend. And when he was there, he made himself invisible.

On this snow day, Tony could not hide. And I had to teach something to someone.

To my surprise, when it was him and me, Tony and I were connecting, and he was learning. I felt a great buzz. I knew Tony could succeed in my class. I felt he believed the same.

It didn't happen, partly because of his poor attendance and partly because with a typically large class, in no way could I address his needs to make the requisite difference in his instruction. But the snow-day experience pointed out the absurdity of the claim made by people who say class size doesn't matter.

Of course it does, particularly when the emphasis is on the basic skills on which schools are hammered by state policy makers — math, writing, reading. These are endeavors in which the teacher needs to go around the room and make sure everyone is on the same page.

Class size matters. Anyone who believes otherwise ought to try saddling up 25 mounts from differing starting points and riding them to one destination.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing this. You can also learn more about the issue and sign a petition at: