Politicians Ignore Research, Say Smaller Class Size Makes No Difference

Class size matters.

In examining both Project STAR and SAGE, experts found that students in the smaller classes performed better than those in larger classes. Minority and socioeconomically disadvantaged students made the most gains, according to the Center for Public Education (CPE).

Haimson said those disadvantaged students, who may not receive as much academic support outside of the classroom as white, middle-class students do, will only improve if placed in small classes in which a teacher can give students the specific attention and support they need.

“We will never successfully narrow the achievement gap without smaller class sizes,” she said.

Furthermore, despite previous research that suggests small class sizes only make a difference in students’ education in Kindergarten through the third grade, CPE reported that students placed in smaller classes have higher scores through the beginning of high school than do their peers consistently placed in larger classes.

And because reducing class size produces such academic benefits, Haimson said keeping classes small is ultimately the more cost-effective option.

“Many studies have shown that class size reduction will pay for itself many times over with better healthcare, increased earning potential and lower crime rates,” Haimson said. “With education spending, the point is not to be as cheap as possible, it’s to be as smart as possible.”

Blind eyes and cruel intentions

Research has long shown the achievement gap to be dominated by poverty and the differences in income. It is remarkable then, that the Dispatch would publish an 800 plus word article on the achievement gap, and not once in the entire article mention poverty. This is important, because just like the Dispatch, the state plan to grade schools based upon closing this achievement gap also does not address the issue of poverty either. Somehow, simply wishing the gap to be closed is good enough policy, when coupled with punishment for the schools when the miracles fail to happen.

A recent paper, titled "Education and Poverty: Confronting the Evidence" from the Duke Sanford School of Public Policy had this to say

Current U.S. policy initiatives to improve the U.S. education system, including No Child Left Behind, test-based evaluation of teachers and the promotion of competition, are misguided because they either deny or set to the side a basic body of evidence documenting that students from disadvantaged households on average perform less well in school than those from more advantaged families. Because these policy initiatives do not directly address the educational challenges experienced by disadvantaged students, they have contributed little -- and are not likely to contribute much in the future -- to raising overall student achievement or to reducing achievement and educational attainment gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged students. Moreover, such policies have the potential to do serious harm. Addressing the educational challenges faced by children from disadvantaged families will require a broader and bolder approach to education policy than the recent efforts to reform schools.

These bolder, broader efforts would require sacrifices beyond the school walls, and prove politically difficult for law makers to confront. This in part explains why Ohio is the only state in the country that does not have a school funding formula, let alone a constitutional one.

What it doesn't explain however, is Republican policy to make the poverty situation worse by trying to enact budget measures like slashing food stamps

From food stamps to child tax credits and Social Service block grants, House Republicans began rolling out a new wave of domestic budget cuts Monday but less for debt reduction — and more to sustain future Pentagon spending without relying on new taxes.

A policy that would ensure more students go to school hungry is particularly cruel.

Data released by the Census Department recently showed the percentage of Americans living in poverty is the highest in 15 years, with children feeling the rise most acutely. The news has direct implications for reformers intent on narrowing the academic achievement gap. As the NYT reported recently

Education was historically considered a great equalizer in American society, capable of lifting less advantaged children and improving their chances for success as adults. But a body of recently published scholarship suggests that the achievement gap between rich and poor children is widening, a development that threatens to dilute education’s leveling effects.

It is a well-known fact that children from affluent families tend to do better in school. Yet the income divide has received far less attention from policy makers and government officials than gaps in student accomplishment by race.

Now, in analyses of long-term data published in recent months, researchers are finding that while the achievement gap between white and black students has narrowed significantly over the past few decades, the gap between rich and poor students has grown substantially during the same period.

“We have moved from a society in the 1950s and 1960s, in which race was more consequential than family income, to one today in which family income appears more determinative of educational success than race,” said Sean F. Reardon, a Stanford University sociologist. Professor Reardon is the author of a study that found that the gap in standardized test scores between affluent and low-income students had grown by about 40 percent since the 1960s, and is now double the testing gap between blacks and whites.

It is with some releif then that Ohio Democrats are proposing at least a modest restoration in funding for schools, after the savage cuts made by the previous budget

Ohio - Ohio House Democrats want to funnel tax dollars back to schools and local governments handed a whopping cut in Republican Gov. John Kasich's state budget passed last year.

House Minority Leader Armond Budish, a Beachood Democrat, and five Democratic members of the House Finance Committee appeared at a Statehouse news conference Monday morning calling for $400 million in additional funding for schools and local governments hit by cuts in the state's operating budget.

"The Kids and Communities First Fund will keep teachers in the classroom and police and firefighters on the streets in communities across Ohio," Budish said.

As long as policy makers and newspaper reporting ignore the very real problem of poverty and its connection to student achievement, we are deluding ourselves into thinking all we need to do is come up with a new test, or a new way to grade schools and everything will be A-ok.