As Hertzberg, the political editor of the New Yorker, points out in his blog:
In the Times this morning, David Brooks writes:
As in many other areas, the biggest education debates are happening within the Democratic Party. On the one hand, there are the reformers like Joel Klein and Michelle Rhee, who support merit pay for good teachers, charter schools and tough accountability standards. On the other hand, there are the teachers’ unions and the members of the Ed School establishment, who emphasize greater funding, smaller class sizes and superficial reforms.
I have to go with the teachers’ unions (boo!) and the Ed School establishment (hiss!) on this one.
Short of abolishing the whole crazy system of local school boards financed by local property taxes and replacing it with an all-powerful national Ministry of Education financed by the federal income tax, I’ve always believed that the best feasible “educational reform” is, precisely, smaller class sizes.
This is not hard to understand. Every teacher and every student knows that the smaller the class, the better the learning environment. Each kid gets more attention. Discipline and control are far easier to achieve. Disruptive kids have less scope for mischief. Teachers are happier and more likely to stay in the profession.
Moreover, class size is incredibly easy to measure. By contrast, measuring things like which teachers are good is extremely problematic...
In contrast, the policies promoted by the so-called “accountability” camp, including more charter schools, Teach for America recruits, and even merit pay, are “band-aid” solutions that do not reach the heart of the matter – which is how to improve the conditions so that students are able to learn and teachers can teach.
The need for smaller classes is especially evident in our large urban school districts, where classes tend to be far more overcrowded than elite private schools or wealthier suburban districts. It is a shame that Klein and Rhee, who endlessly drone about “equity,” do not recognize the need for equity in this most basic area.