Leading Source

You get what you pay for, especially in education

stockvault_9810_20080130One of my pet peeves is that people demand that public schools do a better job in educating students—then their elected officials pull the rug out from under any effort to do so.

Case in point: After years of investing in smaller class sizes, state policymakers are giving up on the effort because of severe budget cuts.

Now, I’ve always been a bit skeptical of the class-size movement. Although there is research to suggest smaller class sizes are beneficial, my thinking is that some of those benefits are achievable with more careful classroom assignments—basing class size on the needs of each child and the capabilities of individual teachers.

To me, shrinking class sizes to some arbitrary number is no guarantee of student academic gains. If I’m wrong, of course, then today’s policy decisions to raise class sizes are all the more wrong-headed.

 And that, I suppose, is my real point: If you invest millions of dollars and millions of hours in administrative time to improve student learning, what does it say about your commitment to school reform when you give up on that investment because times are tough?

And how can you blame local school leaders if student performance doesn’t improve? They’re not the ones who took away the money and tossed out years of effort.

After reading about this issue in the New York Times, I cannot imagine how frustrating it must be for a ninth-grade English teacher in Los Angeles to watch his or her class size go from 20 to 34—or for a Charlotte, N.C., math teacher to see her seventh-grade classes grow from 25 to 31.

But I can imagine the horror that comes from reading Marguerite Roza, a University of Washington professor, tell the Times that, “because many states are facing serious budget gaps, we’ll see more increases this fall.”

All of this reminds me of the old saying, “You take one step forward—and two steps back.” Sadly, that is so common in public education.

But it’s not the fault of public education. While some local school leaders drop the ball, in this case the blame sits squarely on state lawmakers who are failing to provide adequate funding—and the taxpayers who demand tax cuts at a time when tax rates across the nation are at their lowest in more than half a century.

You get what you pay for, folks.

Del Stover, Senior Editor

Naomi Dillon|March 17th, 2011|Categories: American School Board Journal, Budgeting, Governance, Policy Formation, Student Achievement|Tags: , , |

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