We’re trying to bring our country back from the brink of economic collapse, so that we can have a future. But what is a future without people who are prepared – educated – to live it? And what is a "good education"? Let’s look at public schools. There are lots of factors that determine the success and quality of primary and secondary education – home life, parental involvement, the leadership and quality of the teachers, the size of the school itself, the neighborhood – but there is one factor that is pretty easy to measure: class size. According to greatschools.net:
- Gains associated with small classes generally appear when the class size is reduced to less than 20 students.
- Gains associated with small classes are stronger for the early grades.
- Gains are stronger for students who come from groups that are traditionally disadvantaged in education—minorities and immigrants.
- Gains from class size reduction in the early grades continue for students in the upper grades. Students are less likely to be retained, more likely to stay in school and more likely to earn better grades.
- Academic gains are not the only benefit of lowering class size. A recent study published in the American Journal of Public Health revealed that reducing class sizes in elementary schools may be more cost-effective than most public health and medical interventions. This is because students in smaller classes are more likely to graduate from high school, and high school graduates earn more and also enjoy significantly better health than high school dropouts.
I was speaking to a friend recently, and he noted that with academic performance plummeting annually in the U.S. when compared to students in Europe and Asia, all that "extra money" we were throwing at education seemed to be a waste. He spoke about all those "bond measures" that passed here in California (most failed, by the way) and how all that cash could be better deployed elsewhere, since it clearly wasn’t helping students learn. After I picked up my jaw that had fallen to the floor, I asked him exactly what he meant by "extra money." I asked him where the funding was coming from for all those additional children who are reaching school age now. He sat silent.
California isn’t the least expensive state to live in, particularly in the Bay Area and in Southern California, but we are 46th in the nation on per-student spending when it comes to our public schools. Despite legislation to the contrary, California, like many states, has been forced to cut public school funding, even before this most recent economic meltdown. There are fewer teachers and more students. In fact, California has one of the worst (highest) student-teacher-ratios in the nation and has been facing an overall budget crisis with massive deficits for several years now. Parents, who are able, have dug deep into their own pockets to fund public schools or reach even deeper to send their children to private schools instead. The story has been repeated all over the country; although California’s situation is a bit extreme (isn’t it always?).
With the emphasis on schools’ getting a passing grade on the state standards test (states get to set their own rules – this is hardly a national literacy standard) required under the federal "No Child Left Behind Act," our public schools, all across the nation are forced to "teach to the test," not to teach to learn and thrive in the real world or even for the sheer joy of learning. They are turning out "test drones," not educated young men and women. With about 50% of public high school students in the largest cities (74% in Detroit) dropping out, we are processing problems – not solutions – through vast segments of our public school system.
So when you put it all together, a generation of adults who have trashed their economy and borrowed themselves into deficit history are now passing this massive debt load on to the next generations without giving them a globally competitive education to earn enough to pay that debt off! What’s wrong with this picture?! We need to "change that."
I’m Peter Dekom, and I approve this message.