Thursday, August 21, 2008

How Serious Are These Conversations on Ed Policy....

.... if they leave out class size?

UPDATED: Friday, Aug. 21, 8AM

Philissa Kramer over at Gotham Schools writes:

If I hadn’t been battling illness all week, I would have beaten Kevin Carey over at the Quick and the Ed to the punch on Good Magazine’s current cover story, “School Wars,” by progressive educator (and blogger) Gary Stager. Though his criticism could have been gentler, Carey nails the big point: There are serious conversations going on right now about the source of trouble for urban schools and the best strategies for how to address them; these conversations have very real policy implications, but sentiments that, like these concluding Stager’s apparently interview-less piece, ignore both policy-level and day-to-day realities, just aren’t constructive.

No Philissa. The big point is this:

The “serious conversations” taking place often don’t include teachers who would in most cases say, “Don’t talk seriously about urban education until a real attempt is made to invest in a massive campaign to give urban kids the kind of education people like Kevin Carey would want for their own kids.” Note how often the Carey and other ed policy wonks supporting the Joel Klein/Al Sharpton EEP and leave out class size as anything more than an attempt by teacher unions to swell their ranks. The next thing out of their mouths are the magic words, “teacher quality.” As if massively lower class sizes would have little impact on TQ.

I don't necessarily agree with Gary Stager (who I first met in LOGO workshops decades ago when he was teaching computers in New Jersey) that the answer is parent activism. It would take a parent movement for sure but we also need to create a progressive teacher union movement that would fight for the resources to make this a battle for a true Marshall plan for ed reform. The current AFT/UFT and to a great extent the NEA try to straddle the "we want to be accountable" EEP position while having one foot in the Bigger, Bolder approach. They cannot have it both ways, as we in NYC have seen with such disastrous consequences.

Kramer and Carey nit pick while ignoring the big ideas in Stager's piece:

Traditionally, corporate philanthropy in education consisted of a speaker on career day or sponsorship of a softball team. I’m all for generosity, but I’m also for accountability. And I wonder, to whom are the Gateses and the Broads of the world accountable? They were not elected or even appointed, but their money is changing the ways public schools operate. They may do this for altruistic reasons, but what is a citizen’s recourse if their ideology harms children? And, worse, what happens if a billionaire finally throws up his or her hands and publicly exclaims, “Even I can’t fix the public schools”? Our schools may not be able to survive the sudden cash withdrawal—or the backlash.

One way to navigate this new era of “giving” is by asking a simple question: Would these folks send their own children or grandchildren to their “reinvented” schools? Is a steady diet of memorization, work sheets, and testing the sort of education the children they love receive? Of course not. If affluent children enjoy beautiful campuses, arts programs, interesting literature, modern technology, field trips, carefree recess, and teachers who know them, I suggest that we create such schools for all children. What’s good for the sons and daughters of the billionaires should be good enough the rest of the children, too.

A perfect example is James Eterno's fabulous letter to Richard Mills "Stop Academic Aprtheid at Jamaica HS" (posted today at ICE) where he points to the shortchanging of students at the bigger high school, while an elite small school gets preference. James writes:

According to the New York City Department of Education Website, Queens Collegiate is starting up with 81 students in the fall. They will receive $884,544 to run their school for 2008-09. Meanwhile, Jamaica is projected to have 1,484 pupils and was slated to receive an allocation of $11,636,267 this year. After extensive lobbying by the Jamaica High School community, our budget has recently been increased to $12,263,497. While we acknowledge the Chancellor and his financial officers for increasing our allocation, a huge per pupil spending gap between Jamaica and Queens Collegiate remains.

When the supplemental allotment is included, Jamaica, a traditional comprehensive high school that has many more high needs students, will be funded at $8,264 per pupil while the new selective school, Queens Collegiate, will be funded at $10,920 per pupil. This means that per student expenditures will be $2,656 greater at Queens Collegiate compared to Jamaica High School. This amounts to 32% higher spending for a Queens Collegiate student. Even taking into consideration start-up costs for the new school, this still adds up to separate and unequal schools within one building.

The promotional literature being produced by Queens Collegiate advertises lower class sizes. If Jamaica had a per pupil allocation similar to Queens Collegiate, we could easily lower class sizes to under 23 instead of having class sizes as high as 34, the level that we are currently projecting; we certainly could improve the student to counselor ratio and enhance other support services as well.

Despite the clear need for smaller classes, and the new state mandate to achieve them, particularly in low-performing schools, Jamaica High School In addition, valuable classroom space that could be utilized to provide room for this is being taken away from Jamaica to house the new school. is being denied the funding that would make this possible.

Gary Stager, (read Gary's entire piece at Susan Ohanian) like James, expresses the passionate anger that progressive teachers feel about these phony conversations that leave out real solutions. These are the true serious conversations that are taking place, not what Kevin Carey thinks they are.

Richard Rothstein has been putting his ideas out there for a long time on how to attack the problem and even has conjectured as to what it would cost. Seriously less than $20 billion for Fannie Mae, or billions for Bear Sterns. And need I mention Iraq?

"Serious" conversation over.


Anonymous said...

What do you think will happen when the smoke clears and these so-called reformers have their way? Eventually, the average person will be forced to see that they were duped. Those of us who have been speaking out against the shifty Kleins and Sharptons will have the bitter pleasure of being right, but hundreds of thousands of children will suffer.
It's like the myth of Cassandra.

ed notes online said...

I do not see the average person ever seeing the light. These people control the media and without an activist teacher union to draw a line in the sand, there is little hope. The reformers will just come up with a little wrinkle.

If the unions disappeared a new movement would start. But the reformers are too smart for that so they just buy off the leadership with a few goodies. They need urban unions to control the members. Look at Wash DC today where a battle is raging and an ineffective leadership has at times been on the fence. The UFT is the prime example - they are the obstruction, which is why I focus my efforts there.

Anonymous said...


These are the talking points doing the rounds with forum generously supplied by the New York Times (following as it does the Katrina a.k.a Paul Vallas story in the recent magazine section)


Anonymous said...

Norm - do you have evidence that class size reduction leads to better results for kids? Because I haven't seen it.

ed notes online said...

Well, Socrates - er - "Jim" maybe you should try teaching for a few years.