Monday, March 5, 2007

Why CFE funds must be used to reduce class size and student load

Despite what Michael Rebell and Sol Stern may have said at the Century meeting, as recounted below, class size reduction is one of only four evidence-based education reforms that have been shown to work, according to the federal government.

The others? One-on-one tutoring for at-risk readers in grades 1-3, Life-Skills Training for junior high students, and phonics instruction for early readers. Teacher training is not on the list.

Moreover, both Stern and Rebell have been inconsistent in their remarks on class size.

A few months ago, Stern suggested to me that if I wrote an open letter to the Mayor in support of class size reduction in addition to phonics instruction, he would sign onto it.

Rebell was the chief attorney in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit. The CFE case provided expert testimony and evidence showing that smaller classes were closely linked to student success, and that class sizes were too high in NYC schools in all grades to be able to provide a sound basic education.

The Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, concluded that there was “a meaningful correlation between the large classes in City schools and the outputs…of poor academic achievement and high dropout rates” and that NYC students were deprived of their constitutional right to an adequate education because of excessive class sizes in all grades.

Rebell was recently quoted as saying that our schools should be provided with "the professional development, the quality teachers, the smaller class sizes, and the other things that they need. "

Yet the main problem here in NYC in terms of quality teaching is neither a lack of sufficient teacher training or the availability of qualified candidates. It is the rapid turnover of teachers -- with about 25% leaving our schools each year. The number one reason for this high rate of attrition is poor working conditions, and most prominently, the excessive class sizes and teaching loads, which are nearly twice as high than the state and/or national average.

Here is what William Ouchi has recently said about these issues. (Ouchi is a UCLA Professor of Management, who first proposed weighted student funding .)

"The most important single indicator of a school's quality is a metric you've never heard of: total student load. It's the number of classes a teacher teaches times the number of students per class. In New York City, by union contract, a teacher may teach up to five classes, and a class may have up to 32 students, for a total load of 160. ... Then visit an elite private school, like those where many of your readers send their children. The total load is 55 to 60."

Clearly, Ouichi is referring to both class size and student load. The load at the private schools Bloomberg and Klein sent their children to is about four classes of 15 students or less. Nationally, the average student load for middle and high school teachers is 89.

Yet the administration has done nothing to improve this situation in six years. In fact, with the 37 1/2 extra minutes, the student load has significantly grown for most NYC public school teachers.

I have calculated that for the average middle or high school teacher, simply spending five minutes per week correcting each student's homework, and spending another five minutes with each of them after class would take about 40 hours per week. This is a whole second job, and as a result, it doesn't happen. No teacher, no matter how experienced or well trained, can reach all students with the sort of class sizes we have in our schools.

Only by reducing class sizes, which will also lower teaching loads, can we ensure that NYC students get the attention and help they need, and the effective -- and experienced -- teachers they deserve.

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