If there is anything that my experience in my son's elementary school has taught me, it is that class size matters Matters MATTERS!
If you need a reminder of how it matters, just put yourself in a crowded auditorium in the back row, trying to follow a presentation, as opposed to in a front row trying to follow that same presentation. Why do you think we have to pay more for front row seats at the theatre? Because its easier to focus, harder to get distracted, and we get more out of the performance. If that works for us (increasingly so, as our hair gets white and our hearing starts to go!) why wouldn't it work for our kids?
Well, it turns out that it does. If you want to reduce the achievement gap try reducing class size. If you want to improve test scores in 3d grade and increase the number of 3rd grade readers try reducing class size. If you want to increase graduation rates, especially among minorities, try reducing class size. (http://www.nea.org/assets/docs/PB08_ClassSize08.pdf: an NEA review and endorsement of class size reforms)
The golden number, according to a landmark study done in Tennessee (the STAR report of class sizes) (http://d64.e2services.net/class/STARsummary.pdf: Summary of the research design and conclusions of the STAR research on the effect of class size) is 18 children in K-3 classes. The first two years show the greatest improvement for children, but 2-3 doesn't hurt by any means. And if kids get lower class sizes in the whole spectrum of K-3, the benefits actually last all the way through until 12th grade (and therefore, because of increased college admissions, etc. even further) according to folluw-up studies.
So the current focus on reducing TUSD's class sizes is laudable, but the real bang for the buck comes from reducing class sizes in the earlier years. I understand that such a reduction might be very expensive, etc., but we as a District should do the calculations necessary to see HOW expensive, and exactly what the trade-offs might be.
The idea that we can either offer teachers pay increases OR reduce class sizes is a false dichotomy. Certainly it is a very convenient foil, but with the disinfectant of sunlight, do we really only have those two options? Our kids deserve a discussion of the issue, and a cost analysis of the reform. They don't deserve bureaucratic wrangling because the proposal came from a person who is currently in the minority on the Board.
We should not be coming up with a million ways to say no before we say yes to this important issue, as occurred at a Board meeting on July 8. (video transcript is available online) Cited as reasons to NOT ask for staff to do a cost analysis of lowering class sizes to 18 students were a) the timing of the request (before the adoption of the Strategic Plan that, incidentally, cites lowering class sizes as an important priority) b)the difficulty for staff to fulfill the request, c) the (ostensible) excessive cost of reducing class sizes at those years and d) the possible negative effects to other students (because of distracting staff from other crucial issues that they are working on). While all of these issues may be important, this discussion sounded suspect--are the majority Board members and the Superintendent actually arguing against the STAR report? Should these objections add up to inaction on the issue of reducing class sizes to the magic number of 18 for our K-3 kids.? Should they add up to not even looking into the potential costs of such a move?
Imagine if we used the extra capacity that we have in some schools to lower those K-3 class sizes. We could solve multiple problems dogging the district. Those issues are a) our achievement gap between students of different races and different socioeconomic backgrounds, b) our retention rate at third grade because of Move on When Reading c) low graduation rates that are differentiated, again, by race and SES status, and finally d) our extra capacity that keeps forcing us to close schools and enter the cycle of despair, charter creation and privatization of public education. If we solved those problems, wouldn't we be a more successful district overall?