Monday, August 14, 2006

"Truthiness" and Class Size Reduction

At what point do we expect our elected and our candidates to lead? At what point do we expect them to tell us the truth, what we need to hear, as opposed to sticking to the safe soundbites polls tell them we want to hear? More and more, policy is poll-driven, not research-driven. In no area is that more true than education, the proverbial political football.

Here's a great example. "We need to reduce class size so that our teachers can teach and our children can learn." This has a ring of truth to it, doesn't it? Actually, a ring of "truthiness" is a bit more like it. The truth is that the research indicates that simply reducing class size will not alone improve student achievement, and when arbitrarily imposed, may actually be a step backwards.

According to The Telegraph, such is the case in Bibb County, where, to comply with Perdue's "Truth in Class Size" law, seventeen new classrooms, complete with teachers, books and supplies had to be created within the first two weeks of school in order to meet class size limits. While the State will pick up some of the cost, as much as $500,000.00 will come from local funds. And that's not the worst part. Because of the shortage of certified teachers, many of these students will be moved from a classroom where they have a highly qualified teacher, to a class with a sub. You tell me. Would you rather have your third grader with twenty-two other kids and a highly qualified teacher, or with twelve kids and a sub? I'd take the qualified teacher over the sub any day of the week.

Class size reduction is an issue that Republicans and Democrats alike have seized upon. Why? Because the data supports it? Nope. Because the polls support it. Voters love the idea of reducing class size because it feels like the right thing to do. They also love it because politicians keep telling them it's the right thing to do. See the self-perpetuating cycle? It is the kind of issue that consultants tell politicians they would be crazy to oppose but that makes little practical sense. Just like the sex offender legislation. (That's another post.) How I wish that the "fix" for education was a simple as reducing class size.

I think that people are thirsty for real leadership. Real statesmanship. Consider this. When Martin began his race, I wager that no where in his polling did the concept of decency pop up. I bet it would now. Martin took voters where they needed to go. We could use some of that leadership when it comes to the playing politics with our children's schools. Here's a portion of the Telegraph article:

"I'm concerned about taking children away from certified instructors and putting them in rooms that don't have certified teachers," said board member Bob Nickels. "If you don't have a teacher available you have to take a sub, who's not qualified."
Student transfers under No Child Left Behind have also not occurred yet, which could cause the number of new classrooms to increase, she said.
In April, Gov. Sonny Perdue signed into law the Truth in Class Size Act, lowering class sizes for grades K-8 to improve learning.
Beginning in fall 2006, kindergarten classes were to have no more than 18 students. For grades 1-3, classes were limited to 21 students and in grades 4-8, 28 students, according to the law.

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