Friday, March 13, 2009


As every informed citizen knows, the economic downturn is causing local governments to scrutinize and make cuts to their budgets for the public schools. All agree that class sizes should not be increased — or increased as little as possible.
This essay by Jay Mathews, "Better Teachers, Not Tinier Classes, Should Be Goal," offers another perspective on the sacred cow of class size.

...[W]hen the Center for Public Education examined 19 studies of class-size effects that met its research standards, it reached two interesting conclusions. First, most of the studies focused on kindergarten through third grade, and most of the beneficial effects of smaller classes seem to occur in those years, when students are learning to read. Spending money on class-size reduction for those kids makes sense, as several local school systems have shown.

Second, the studies showed little effect from class-size reduction unless the number of students was 20 or fewer, and little effect in middle or high schools....
Read the entire article here.

A related article about the apportioning of funds for education appeared in Newsweek, in a personal essay entitled "Autism and Education."


My son and my daughter are happy, active, healthy children who enjoy school and are lucky to have a solid family life. But they are very different. My autistic son tests in the "severe" range in many subjects. At 8, he reads well but cannot answer basic questions about what he has read. He speaks at a 3-year-old level, adores "Blue's Clues" and is almost potty-trained.

My daughter, meanwhile, tests in the 95th percentile nationwide on standardized tests. At 12, she shows an amazing ability to process information, taking complex ideas apart and putting them back together to form new thoughts. She reads an entire novel most Sunday afternoons, solves the Sudoku puzzles in the paper and memorizes the entire script—not just her own lines—for the school plays she loves to be in.

At school, my son spends a portion of his day in a regular classroom. But primarily he learns in a group of two to six children led by an intervention specialist, often accompanied by an aide. Even when he's in the regular classroom, he is never without an adult by his side. His intervention specialist records everything he does in daily logs that are required to ensure funding....

My son's teachers do their absolute best for him. I know they love him. But beyond that, his government-mandated Individualized Education Plan legally ensures that he gets every opportunity to excel. In addition, his teachers spend countless hours each year filling out detailed quarterly reports and other government-required paperwork. If I decide that the school district should pay for something extra to improve my son's education, I can appeal to an independent board for mediation.

My daughter spends all but three hours of her school week in a regular classroom, where she often hides a book in her desk and reads while the teacher talks. She complains to me when the teacher reteaches things she learned last year, and she resents being drilled over and over on something she learned in 10 minutes. For three hours a week, she is pulled from her classroom for a "gifted" program with 15 other children, where she works either on a group project with other students or independently on her own blog or a computer-based foreign-language program.
I can only imagine how much my daughter would excel if she had a program specifically geared to her strengths, one that challenged her creativity on a daily basis. Or if she received even half the individual attention my son receives every week...


...My daughter has the potential for much more. If she were given even a fraction of the customized education that my son receives, she could learn the skills needed to prevent the next worldwide flu pandemic, or invent a new form of nonpolluting transportation. Perhaps she could even discover a cure for autism.
Read the entire essay here.

Assuming the inevitability of reductions in costs to the local governments and the local taxpayers, how would you restructure those budgets during these difficult economic times?

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posted by Always On Watch @ 3/13/2009 09:30:00 AM