Class Size: Fake Issue?

Mar 3, 2020 by

A few days ago I got whiplash.  Not from slamming brakes when a Charger cut me off on the Expressway.

I wore no lawyer-promoted Sir Walter Raleigh-type collar worn to brace my vertebrae as a visual aid to buttress an insurance claim.

This was not a case of no-fault.

It was caused by something more violent than a car out of control: an idea out of control. 

I had thrown my head back laughing with disgust.

The recklessly-driven thought belonged to Eril Hanushek, of the Hoover Institution at Stanford.  He takes a “my way or the highway” position on educational issues.

Hanushek rejects the view that there is research-based proof that lower class size is advantageous to a learning environment.

He didn’t venture an opinion on whether the ratio of attending physicians to critical care patients has any bearing on the life-sustaining attention that can be given to their medical needs. 

Above his pay-grade. Below his pretensions.

It’ll take more than the unvarnished truth to convince him. But since he , (and many others,) believes what he wants to believe, his better judgment reposes in dormancy.  Academic credentials do not require common sense.

It may  just be a matter of his intellectual filter gone awry.

Last week, the City Council held a hearing on class size.  The turnout of educators, parents, students and concerned New Yorkers was so huge that many had to be turned away for lack of space.

An abundance of evidence was presented. There was universal recognition that class size has a direct impact on teaching and learning. 

Time is finite.  Children’s needs vary in every classroom.  One teacher is more likely to be able to address them all if there are fewer of them.

Chalkbeat reports than class size in New York City is 15 percent to 30 percent higher than in schools elsewhere in the state, despite a 2013 campaign promise by then mayoral candidate Bill DeBlasio to reduce them. Since 2007, the number of kids in the first through third grades with class sizes of 30 or above leaped by almost 3,000 percent.

The cost of eliminating over-crowding could easily be met, with many pots of gold to spare, if the state complied with the more than a decade-old  Campaign For Fiscal Equity lawsuit which determined that the state owed the city billions of dollars to provide a basic quality education to its students.

Apparently, such judicial renderings are not enforceable when the non-compliant entity is the government.

The City Council is not in denial. It embraces public education. It does not insult our intelligence by contradicting the validity of the linkage between class size and educational outcomes.  But its $34 billion budget does not allow for full investment, they claim.

Leonie Haimson, who runs the advocacy group Class Size Matters, urged the City Council to commit $100 million in next year’s budget specifically to lower class size.  She uses words and numbers very deftly to back up her importuning, noting that this amount is less than 0.3 percent of the DOE budget.

A sizeable portion of the nearly $19 billion in the present 5-year capital plan should be dedicated to the reduction of class size, rather than being diverted to creating new school buildings.

According to Chalkbeat, Governor Andrew Cuomo seeks a total change in the funding formula.

Mr. Hanushek seems to think that the importance of class size is a ruse and fallacy manufactured by public school advocates such as teacher unions. He is an acolyte of private schools in all its forms.

Perhaps he can tell us why every one of them, especially those that cater to the affluent, advertise and emphasize a low teacher-student ratio as their prime selling point?

As moving parts to the machinery of his argument, the truth is out of gear.  Or, to use an aquatic analogy, slippery as an eel.

Ron Isaac

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