Sunday, April 22, 2007

Teacher War Stories and Class Size

Posted to ICE-mail by Lisa North, chapter leader, PS 3. Lisa, a founding member of ICE, was the ICE/TJC candidate for elementary Vice President in the recent elections.

Two articles about Ric Klass’s book about teaching in a large Bronx HS, “Man Overboard: Confessions of a Novice Math Teacher in the Bronx.” Ric, a former aerospace engineer and investment banker, decided what he really wanted in life was to teach in the NYC public schools, but lasted only one year, largely because of the problems he faced in reaching all his students in huge classes:


“He does hold out some hope for schools that spend their money on smaller class sizes. “Given the discipline issues, the teacher will only get their attention when there are about 15 students in the class. Small schools, such as those being promoted by the Gates Foundation, are not the answer; it's smaller class sizes.”

And today’s Education supplement of the NY Times features a review of several memoirs of teachers, including Ric’s and another by Dan Brown, a former filmmaker who was assigned to an elementary school in the Bronx, “The Great Expectations School: A Rookie Year in the New Blackboard Jungle.” In both, the authors describe their unwieldy class sizes as their most insurmountable challenge. Both fled the public school system and are now teaching in elite NYC private schools where no classes are larger than 15 students.

Ric’s story, in particular, puts the lie to Klein’s claim that we cannot reduce class size because of the shortage of qualified math and science teachers. If we could provide them with smaller classes, more people like Ric – who had all the right credentials, including degrees from MIT and Harvard Business School -- would hang around longer and we’d have a more qualified and effective teaching force. It’s the attrition rate – not the lack of applicants –that doom so many of our students to less effective and experienced teachers.

See excerpt here:

“In practically all the foxhole memoirs there is a common villain: standardized testing, which the authors agree has been so overemphasized that it is now an obstacle to the very education it was supposed to measure. And there is a common, if nearly impossible, remedy as well: smaller classes, more resources. Mr. Klass stumbles on this partly by accident when he is asked to take over a group of special ed students and discovers that they do much better than his other classes, simply because he can give them more time.”

Apparently, as in the reviewer’s case, even those who admit that reducing class size is the key to improving our schools believe is a remedy that is “nearly impossible” to achieve shows that the biggest challenge we face is changing people’s minds about what is possible.

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