It is a little known fact that one the first people to discuss the importance of class size was the great Jewish rabbi and philosopher Maimonides in the 12th century, who wrote:
“Twenty-five children may be put in charge of one teacher. If the number in the class exceeds twenty- five but is not more than forty, he should have an assistant to help with the instruction. If there are more than forty, two teachers must be appointed.’’
(Chapter II of ‘‘Laws Concerning the Study of Torah’’ in the Mishneh Torah.)
According to an article in Haaretz, religious state-supported schools in Israel have smaller classes than the secular schools. Not surprisingly, schools with primarily Arab students are more crowded than those in the Jewish neighborhoods.
The strategy of the Israeli government in responding to the teachers’ demand to reduce class size appears similar to that of the Bloomberg/Klein administration – talk about various options while actually doing as little as possible, especially as it might create the need to build new schools.
Some in the Finance ministry are calling for more parental “choice” and control over principal and teacher tenure instead:
. … in talks with various treasury officials and their colleagues at the Education Ministry, there emerges a vision: using personal contracts to hire principals, term limits for principals, choosing all the teachers in the school, simplifying teacher dismissal and, the perennial favorite, substantially broadening the option a parent has in choosing their children's schools.
As far as senior Education Ministry officials are concerned, as well as education researchers in academia, the plan is disturbing.
"Even countries that did major reforms were very careful about the use of personal contracts," explains one official. "Doing so means inserting unacceptable, harmful tensions into the school. In order to ostensibly justify the use of personal contracts, there will be widespread use of assessments and evaluations of principals, teachers and also students. Everything will then be measured, but it is very hard, and apparently impossible, to quantify all components of education with a simple formula."
"The managerial approach says in effect that it is possible to affect the microprocesses inside the classrooms by changing the macro on the structural level. The problem is that this has never been proven," adds Dr. Dan Gvaton, of
Sound familiar? Too bad we don't have such wise men at Tweed. Where is Maimonides now that we need him?