It IS Class size, of course!

Recently a long-awaited and highly anticipated report on the state of education in California was released. The findings presented lots of fodder for both sides. Our Governor, of course, chose to ignore the clear mandate that the state of California needs to invest more in our schools, instead insisting that money would only be considered after the “reforms” he cherry-picked were implemented. Predictably, he went after the teachers, and ignored the discussion that concludes with the lack of financial commitment that is required to increase academic performance, particularly in our underserved communities.
Our own former Assemblymember and education expert, Jackie Goldberg, responds to the report and the discussion about what is needed to make our schools better in the years ahead, especially for our poor kids.
Here is what she has to say:

It’s Class Size, Of Course!

The only people still arguing about the merits of reducing class size, are people whose children (or grandchildren) are in private schools where the class size is 10-15 students per teacher.
We spend millions of dollars a year in California on testing. Actually it is hundreds of millions of dollars on pencil and paper, largely multiple-choice tests which those who write and sell them say tell us whether or not children are getting a good education. Whew! I’m glad I got that off my chest. But truly, all over California, in the State Department of Education, in Superintendent O’Connell’s Office, in the Legislature and the Governor’s Office, everyone is congratulating themselves for having raised test scores on Standards’ Tests that are based on the State Standards, and for which the Curriculum Commission and the State Board of Education have found the rare few materials that meet California’s “rigorous standards.” And yet, the scores in grades 4-12 are not as good.
Enter Governor Gray Davis. He decides to put money in the Education Budget to reduce class size in Kindergarten through 3rd grade to 20 students per teacher. Wow! Now, coincidentally, the State Board of Education went to the one-size-fits-all Reading Programs for Kindergarten through 8th grade at about the same time. And amazingly, The State Board could only find materials from two of the “giants” in textbook publishing that could meet California’s “highest in the nation” standards. Imagine, in the 21st Century, a state with six million public school students, and our State Board and our Curriculum Commission have managed to find THE only way to teach reading and language arts, and miraculously, THE way works for all children, from all backgrounds, from all economic groups, regardless of learning English as a second language, in fact, regardless of anything.
Surprisingly, this one-size-fits-all approach is not working equally well everywhere. But alas, the Sacramento powers-that-be have declared that since there was “growth” in Kindergarten, 1st, 2nd, and some 3rd grade scores, their system is a miracle! And none of them seem to notice that class size reduction occurred in just those grades and at just this same time.
That is why “we” are now able to conclude that no more money need be spent reducing class size in schools with heavy majorities of students from very low-income families. The reading progress that has been made came from our one-size-fits-all approach. And if it is not working somewhere, then the “teachers need more professional development time.”
We certainly do not need to spend money on Counselors, or Health Professionals, and technology is too expensive, goes out of date, and didn’t I read somewhere that it has been shown not to be very useful compared to what it costs? All this has lead Governor Schwarzenegger to conclude that, “we do not need to be speaking about more money in schools until we ‘fix the problems’ at the schools right now.” I am certain he speaks for all who do not want any rise in income or corporate taxes when the Governor says fixing schools in not really a matter of money, though, shucks, we all know that more money would be grand, if we had it.. .
The Textbook and Testing Industries along with self-delusion and denial and greed (“No, I won’t pay any more of my millions of dollars in taxes!”), all have concluded that reducing class size is not critical in improving the achievement of low and very low income students. Yet small class size and the individual attention which comes with it are the hallmarks of the private schools attended by the offspring of the well-off and rich.
I have a news bulletin for everyone listening: The State adopted reading programs did not raise reading achievement for many California school children. It is class size reduction that caused achievement to move up, in almost all schools in California. That is right. When a class size is held at a MAXIMUM of 20 students, children get more attention, and the children have far fewer “behavior problems.” Teachers get to know their students as individual young people, not as a herd that must be reigned-in before it gets “out of control.” Attendance goes up, and achievement does too, and not just on standardized tests. But it costs money to reduce class size, so all efforts in this area are usually rebuffed. And they are rebuffed with inane arguments like, “Reducing class size doesn’t really help unless you get to 15 students per class, and since we will never do that, then there is no reason to reduce class size.” What an argument. “We can’t save everyone, it’s too expensive, so let’s not save anyone.” And, why would we NEVER really spend more money on our schools?
So that’s the problem. Next week, I’ll make some suggestions for solutions. Stay tuned.
(So go ahead, ask me, How do I really feel about this topic?)
Jackie Goldberg
Before being termed-out of office, Jackie served six years in the California Assembly and Chaired the Assembly Committee on Education. Prior to that, she served on the School Board for the LA Unified School District for 8 years, LA City Council for 8 years and has been a high school teacher for 18 years.
Since her term-limit induced retirement, she writes that she has been enjoying life, traveling to Italy, and preparing to work in the middle schools of the Compton Unified School District, on what informally is being called the Compton Middle Schools’ Project. The plan is to try to find ways to reduce class size, and to recruit and retain excellent teachers. She says,
“We are also trying to make school exciting, illuminating, and heaven forbid, occasionally fun!
And we intend to prepare all middle school students for any course they might take in High School.

There will be more Goldberg reports on her view of the state of education in blogs to come. She’s promised to continue to speak with no holds-barred, so stay-tuned.