It doesn’t seem possible these days, but once upon a time, about 12 or so years ago, California and many other states were flush with cashnot only were they able to pay all their bills, they were actually able to expand and create programs. And one of the biggest and most popular, at least in California, was a program to reduce class sizes in the early elementary grades.
It seemed like a great idea, parents and teachers in particular loved it because they felt the students could get more individualized attention and learn more (of course, the teachers unions weren’t complaining about the influx of new members, too).
Of course, we all know now that the economy is falling, and falling hard. Schools are facing major cuts and tough choices this year, and as Jim Hull at the Center for Public Education told School Board News’ Fall 2010 edition, “state revenues are not expected to get back to their 2008 levels before 2013.”
And while NSBA and other groups were thrilled with the passage of the Education Jobs Fund, the maintenance of effort and other provisions may not help states and districts hire as many teachers as they’d hoped, at least not this year.
The Hechinger Report last week noted that the trend of increasing class sizes reverses a decade-long move to lower the student-teacher ratio. The big question, though, is whether class size really mattersthere’s not much research to back up those initiatives, compared to the large and growing cadre of researchers who say that the quality and skills of the teacher matters most.
What’s interesting is, now that we’re facing a major national budget crisis, the public seems less convinced of the merits of class size reduction and more concerned about teacher quality. Voters in Florida, which passed a lower-class-size mandate in 2002, will revisit that plan in November, and most school districts in California have dropped the early grades program.
Another example of the growing demand for better teachers was the annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll released last week, which for the first time asked pointed questions about teacher pay scales. It found that three-quarters believe the quality of work and not the standard scale should determine teacher pay and that teacher pay should be very closely or somewhat closely tied to student academic achievement.
That’s a good sign for school boards, notes NSBA Executive Director Anne L. Bryant.
“School boards also support the growing demand for a better pay structure for teachers and school staff,” she said in a statement on the release of the poll. “It is important that we place high-quality teachers in every school and achieve systemic improvements.”
Joetta Sack-Min, Associate Editor