Friday, January 18, 2019

What LA teachers are teaching the country about the need to reduce class size

Last week I published a column on the Washington Post Answer Sheet about how class size is the central issue in the Los Angeles teacher strike, now going on for a week.

Los Angeles schools have a $1.8 billion surplus, and yet Superintendent Austin Beutner still insists that he can ignore any and all class size caps in the teacher contract, because of a loophole that was inserted in the contract after the great recession hit, a decade ago. 

Ignoring these contractual caps - which are still too high -- means that class sizes in Los Angeles can rise to 35 or 40 in many schools, which are ridiculously large and far too large to provide any student with  sufficient feedback from their teachers. 

In the piece, I also explained how many insiders suspect that the real reason the pro-charter LA school board and  Superintendent so obdurately refuse to lower class size is that this would take up space in their schools that instead they'd prefer to give to the expanding charter schools.

I also dispute the risible claims made in an oped by Arne Duncan, in which he tossed in the red herring of unreliable average class size data as cited by the district, rather than admit that the real focus of discontent among parents and teachers are the maximum class sizes that many LA students suffer.  Duncan also went on to repeat the tired straw man argument that parents would prefer their children have a good teacher than a small class- as though that's a real world choice any parent should have to make.

Class sizes have increased across the country since the recession, and even though we're a decade past that point, school budgets haven't fully recovered.  I'm encouraged that in Los Angeles as well as many of the other states where teachers led strikes and walk-outs last year, including OklahomaColorado,  and Arizona,  this has led to a resurgence in people's awareness of the key issue of class size, because its a too often-ignored component of any real school improvement strategy. 

Despite all the more trendy proposals will concerning online learning, community schools or pre-K expansion, class sizes in grades K-12 are far too large in most public schools around the country to provide kids with a real opportunity too learn.  As Dale Farran, one of the lead investigators in the Vanderbilt preK study -- the most authoritative large-scale experiment ever done on expanding preK, has concluded:

Too much has been promised from one year of preschool intervention without the attention needed to the quality of experiences children have and what happens to them in K-12.”
Here in NYC, class sizes also remain far bigger than they were when the state's highest court  said they were too large to offer students their constitutional right to a sound basic education in the decision in the CFE case. 

The union class size caps in NYC public schools are also are far too large, and haven't been lowered in over fifty years - despite all the research showing how critical this issue is for student success, especially for disadvantaged students and students of color.  And this is despite the fact that 99% of NYC teachers say reducing class size would improve our schools - far outstripping any other reform.

Over 336,000 NYC students are crammed into class sizes of 30 or more, and our average class sizes are 15-30% higher than those in the rest of the state.    For more of the latest class size data this fall, including sharp increases since 2007, check out our powerpoint here.

Time to do something about this here in NYC?  Leave your comments below.

But first, check out the video below of Diane Ravitch speech at a UTLA rally at Alexander Hamilton High School in Los Angeles on Wednesday, saying the best thing that could come out of the LA strike is a real cap on class size and a real cap on charter schools.

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