Sunday, February 27, 2011

Arne Duncan and Bill Gates: Dumb and Dumber

On Saturday, Arne Duncan warned governors about ‘dumb’ education cuts and then suggested even dumber cuts, like increasing class size:

“Duncan also said that states should think selectively about increasing class sizes. The father of two grade-school-age children said he’d rather his kids be in a bigger class with a better teacher than a smaller class with a lousy one. He suggested teachers could get paid extra for getting a bigger class…”

Now can anyone explain how that would help kids? Pay teachers more to teach more students, each of which would get less attention and and a lower quality of education? Talk about paying more for less.

Meanwhile, the Institute of Education Sciences, the research arm of the US Department of Education (which he heads) points out that class size reduction is one of only a handful of reforms that have been proven to work through rigorous evidence.

Duncan, whose speech was peppered with references to “you guys”… is popular even with many conservative Republicans….Sixteen governors listened to his speech, which followed a presentation from the head of the Indicators and Analysis Division at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The OECD official said the U.S. is trailing other developed countries on a host of important measures. Ontario, Canada, was held out as a model.

Except that Ontario has reduced class size systematically since 2003 across the province – just as Finland did, decades earlier, propelling that country to its success.

Click on the chart to the left for class sizes in the early grades since 2003 in Ontario -- the opposite direction NYC schools and others throughout the nation have taken since then.

In today's Washington Post, Bill Gates took up this same dumb refrain -- with a vengeance. He again suggests that class sizes should be increased, and makes the following claim:

In a 2008 survey funded by the Gates Foundation, 83 percent of teachers said they would be happy to teach more students for more pay.

Actually not! What the survey showed is that many teachers would take a $5,000 pay increase instead of a reduction in class size of two students per class – which is very different from preferring an increase in their class size.

Not to mention that in survey after survey, teachers say that the best way to improve their effectiveness would be to reduce class size – over salary increases, merit pay or any other policy. (For example, see this national survey from Public Agenda, “A Sense of Calling: Who Teaches and Why,” in which 86% of teachers said that reducing would a "very effective" way to improve the quality of instruction, far above increasing salaries, more professional development or any other method cited.)

In today's oped, Gates also claims that “After the first few years, seniority seems to have no effect on student achievement.” This is completely erroneous. See our fact sheet on teacher experience; showing student achievement gains are correlated with as much as twenty years of teaching experience.

In fact, as research reveals, there are only two observable, objective factors tied to more effective teaching – class size and more experience. And it’s very sad that Gates and Duncan -- along with the other corporate privateers -- are attempting to undermine both.


Anonymous said...

Duncan is an ass and he is going to be responsible for the end of the Obama administration.

Laura Shaw said...

In an accredited child-centered Montessori environment, larger class sizes ARE better. Too bad public education keeps hanging in to the factory model that is NOT based on how children learn - as in they can also learn from older children. Which further motivates them to want to learn.