Sunday, May 7, 2017

Macron, Trump, class size vs. charter schools, and my letter to the NY TImes

Today the big news is that Emmanuel Macron was elected as President of France by a huge margin - 65% to 35% - over Marine Le Pen.  This was a terrific win for many reasons, including one not often mentioned in the US media.

Macron has proposed radically reducing class size -- with a plan to hire 5,000 teachers to cut class size to 12 in the early grades in high-need communities.  

His platform is aligned with the findings of renowned economist Thomas Piketty, who after analyzing the gains of students in an earlier governmental class size reduction program, concluded that capping class size at 15 in high-poverty schools would eliminate the achievement gap between racial and economic groups.

Meanwhile, last week the US Congress voted to approve a continuing resolution that funds the federal budget through September.  But the budget they approved cuts Title IIA funds by 12.5%, a reduction of $300 million.  About one third of Title IIA funds are used to lower class size, especially in high-poverty districts where classes already are too high.  In NYC, the entire allocation of Title IIA funds of more than $100 million is used to keep teachers on staff and prevent further increases in class size, which have already risen sharply since 2008.  More on this here.

This is what the NEA had to say about the Congress vote:
Randi Weingarten sent this statement to Education Week, which she shared with me: 

The amount is better than the zero that President Trump initially proposed, but a cut will have consequences. In this case the consequences are larger class sizes for students and the loss of high quality professional development for teachers. We will watch what comes out in the President’s budget in May and continue to resist Trump administration’s push to defund public education and fight to regain and add Title II funding in the next budget cycle.

President Trump, of course,  has proposed slashing the education budget for next year by over $9 billion, and totally eliminating the $2.4 billion Title IIA program for next school year-- which would decimate efforts to keep class sizes under control throughout the country, especially in large urban districts.   

Instead Trump wants to divert as many federal dollars as possible to charter schools, vouchers, and tuition tax credits for private schools.  On Wednesday, he appeared at a White House event along with Vice President Pence and Education Secretary DeVos, promoting school "choice" and the DC voucher program, even though the results of that program have had negative effects.

I wrote a letter published in today's NY Times, along with several others critiquing an earlier column by David Leonhardt that argued that expanding charter schools would be a good solution to improve our education system.  The letters are all worth reading, and make good points.  

The problem is that few if any charter school studies undertaken by researchers have examined their impact on the entire ecosystem of public schools.In my letter I point out how diverting more funds from NYC public schools to charters will not help and will instead likely hurt our neediest students and undermine the public school system as a whole.

In this country, we have a clear choice to make.  If we truly care about equity we will focus our efforts on keeping class sizes small enough for all students to be able to receive the attention they deserve -- especially those students who need the help the most. Instead, putting more public dollars into privately-run schools will merely create even more winners and losers, and leave more children behind. My letter is below:

To the Editor:

David Leonhardt ignores the fact that very few charters enroll and retain equal numbers of at-risk students as traditional public schools in the communities in which they are situated — children with serious disabilities, those who receive free lunch, and/or recent immigrants and English-language learners.

The result is that our traditional public schools are increasingly concentrated with the highest need students with fewer resources to educate them. In New York City alone, charter schools are diverting more than $1.7 billion from the public schools, as well as taking up more space in a system where more than 550,000 students attend overcrowded schools and more than 300,000 students are crammed into classes of 30 or more.

For the sake of equity, we need to implement solutions that will work for all public students, especially those with the highest needs. By focusing our efforts on expanding charter schools, society is leaving out those students who need our help the most.

The writer is executive director of Class Size Matters.

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