Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Size Plus

I'm very much in agreement with Leonie Haimson on class size . An opposing viewpoint is provided by Eduwonk, and I agree with him too.

But not very much.

Eduwonk's position is that small classes will not be effective without good teachers, and he's absolutely right. However, the conclusion that we should therefore abandon the pursuit of smaller classes does not follow.

Eduwonk represents himself as a progressive, but like Bloomberg and Klein, favors gimmicks and half-baked bargain-basement band-aids over emulating what works. There are good reasons why no one where I live even discusses merit pay, housing incentives, or pension elimination (which Eduwonk recommended just the other day).

We pay teachers well. We get hundreds of applications for each position. We pick the best, have them go through multiple interviews, and audition them in classrooms rather than simply checking their college credits and hoping for the best. If they don't work out, they don't remain. We don't have 800 numbers, intergalactic searches, or ever-evolving alternative certification schemes.

Once upon a time NYC didn't need them either.

When NYC had the highest standard and paid the highest wages, we were the best system in the state, and a model for the world. It's certainly true they had large class sizes then, too. But it's thirty years later, and about time we started making things better, rather than worse, for the city's 1.1 million schoolchildren. For as long as I've been teaching, various mayors have frantically chased the lowest common denominator and worked feverishly to ensure they filled wooden chairs for as little money as possible.

NYC used to require not only state certification, but both oral and written testing from Board of Examiners. I faced them twice, for two of my three license areas, and they were no walk in the park.

For thirty years, we've tried gimmicks and shortcuts. And for thirty years we've moved steadily downhill.

It's all or nothing, NYC. If you want quality, you'll have to make the ultimate sacrifice. You'll have to pay for it.

What a disgrace that millionaires whose kids have never set foot in public schools get to sit around and make decisions about what's "good enough" for the kids we teach.

It's hardly surprising that it never is. Unless we move for what kids need (good teachers, small classes, and decent facilities), as mandated by the NY State Supreme Court (Aren't politicians supposed to obey these folks?), Eduwonk and I will be sitting in our rocking chairs, wiping the drool from our keyboards, and presenting you these same points in another thirty years.
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