Obama ad: Romney agrees with Duncan on class size

President Obama’s new ad hit accuses challenger Mitt Romney of believing class size doesn’t matter:  “Some of our children’s greater experiences have been in smaller classrooms … but Mitt Romney says class sizes don’t matter, and he supports Paul Ryan’s budget, which could cut education by 20 percent,” the ad says.

Romney never said class size doesn’t matter, reports CNN.

Talking to a group of Philadelphia teachers  in May, Romney said, “If you had a class size of five, that would be terrific. If you have a class size of 50, that would be impossible.”

But Romney cited a McKinsey Global Institute Study that showed sometimes schools with small classes fail and sometimes schools with big classes succeed. Therefore, he said, class size should not be given excessive weight in efforts to improve schools.

Obama’s Education secretary, Arne Duncan, agrees.  Class size might matter up to third grade, but “but in secondary schools, districts may be able to save money without hurting students, while allowing modest but smartly targeted increases in class size,”  Duncan said in 2010. “In fact, teachers in Asia sometimes request larger class sizes because they think a broad distribution of students and skill levels can accelerate learning.”

Romney’s K-12 education plan “contains some interesting ideas and some problematic ones,” writes Matthew Yglesias, who also notes that Duncan and Romney agree on class size.

At “the very Obama-friendly Center for American Progress,” where Yglesias used to work, the education team also holds the Romney-Duncan position:

It’s not that “class size doesn’t matter” exactly. It’s that at most plausible margins, it makes more sense to invest money in hiring and retaining the most effective teachers rather than in simply adding more teachers. The fact that Obama agrees with Romney about this is presumably why Obama’s education policies have focused on investing money in teacher quality rather than in maximizing the number of teachers.

Romney’s “budget won’t leave much money for anything,” including K-12 education, writes Yglesias.

How Americans would cut school budgets

If you had to balance a public school budget, would you lay off teachers, cut pay or raise taxes? Who’d go first if layoffs were essential? How Americans Would Slim Down Public Education reports on a Fordham survey.

If their own school district were facing a serious deficit, 48 percent said the best approach would be “to cut costs by dramatically changing how it does business,” rather than raise taxes or wait out the downturn. How?

Shrink the administration. A broad majority (69 percent) supports “reducing the number of district level administrators to the bare minimum” as a good way to save money because “it means cutting bureaucracy without hurting classrooms.”

Freeze salaries to save jobs. Nearly six in ten (58 percent) say freezing salaries for one year for all district employees is a good way to save money “because the district can avoid laying off people.”

If teachers must be laid off, base it on their effectiveness, not years of service. About three in four (74 percent) say that those with poor performance should be “laid off first and those with excellent performance protected”; only 18 percent would have “newcomers laid off first and veteran teachers protected.”

In addition, there was broad support for closing schools and merging districts, raising class sizes in non-core subjects such as art, music, and physical education and replacing expensive special ed programs.

However, respondents rejected shortening the school year and shrinking the non-teaching staff.

They split on charging fees for after-school sports and extracurricular activities, using blended learning (a mix of Internet and classroom instruction), and “virtual” schools.

Here’s part of the survey.



How to pay (some) teachers more

By redesigning teachers’ roles to “extend the reach of excellent teachers,” we can pay excellent teachers up to 130 percent more without increasing class sizes and within current budgets, concludes the Opportunity Culture initiative.

“In 2007-08, states spent $14.8 billion on pay bumps for teachers with master’s degrees, which—time and again—have proven to be entirely unrelated to instructional effectiveness,” concludes The Sheepskin Effect.


Teachers are less satisfied

Teachers are less satisfied with their jobs, but parents are more engaged with their children’s schools, according to the new MetLife Survey of the American Teacher.

Teacher job satisfaction has fallen by 15 percentage points since 2009, the last time the MetLife survey queried teachers on this topic, from 59 percent to 44 percent responding they are very satisfied. This rapid decline in job satisfaction is coupled with a large increase in the number of teachers reporting that they are likely to leave teaching for another occupation (17 percent in 2009 vs. 29 percent today).


Not surprisingly, more teachers say their job is not secure. Two-thirds of teachers reported layoffs in their schools; three-quarters said there were budget cuts in the last year. Sixty-three percent said average class size has increased in their school.

Parent involvement has increased since it was first surveyed.  Sixty-four percent of students say they talk about things that happen at school with their parents every day, compared to 40 percent in 1988.

Best ed schools make a difference

Students’ progress can be linked to where their teachers trained, concludes a study of Washington state education schools Dan Goldhaber of the University of Washington Center for Education Data & Research.

“Improving teacher training has the potential to greatly enhance the productivity of the teacher workforce,” Goldhaber wrote in the report.

Overall, only a small percentage of the differences in teacher effectiveness were linked to education schools, but the best programs were much better than the worst. The effects outweighed smaller class sizes or teacher experience. “Hiring a teacher from the best training program could be equivalent to shrinking a class by five to 10 students,” AP reports.

National Center on Teacher Quality is working with U.S. News and World Report to evaluate and rank all 1,400 education schools in the country. NCTQ’s Transparency Central lists all the letters from teacher preparation programs objecting to the review.

American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education has urged members not to participate in the “fundamentally flawed” project, reports Teacher Beat.

(The AACTE letter)  also calls the review an “outrage,” a “cause for alarm,” and NCTQ’s tactics “unprofessional.”

If education schools refuse to cooperate, NCTQ will file Freedom of Information Act requests to see course syllabi and hire students collect and submit documents.

Texas schools outperform Chicago

Don’t mess with Texas’ schools. Education Secretary Arne Duncan claimed Texas schools have “really struggled” under Gov. Rick Perry, now a GOP candidate for president. “Far too few of their high school graduates are actually prepared to go on to college,” Duncan said in a TV interview, adding he feels “very, very badly for the children there.”

Texas’ fourth- and eighth-graders “substantially outperformed” students in Chicago, the district Duncan ran before going to Washington, notes Andrew Rotherham in Time. The Texas high school graduation rate of 73 percent is slightly below the national average, but way above Chicago’s 56 percent graduation rate.

Overall, Texas scores are “right around the national averages” in reading and math on  NAEP, despite educating many immigrant students with poorly educated, non-English-speaking parents.  ACT reports Texas high school graduates only narrowly trail national averages for college readiness.

Duncan’s response to Rotherham:

“Texas has challenges. The record speaks for itself. Lots of other states have challenges too. But there is a lot of hard work that needs to be done in Texas and a lot of children who need a chance to get a great education.”

The statement is meaningless: All states have challenges that require hard work. The question is whether Texas is shirking.

Duncan’s claim of “massive increases in class size in Texas” is untrue, responds the Dallas Morning News. Primary classes, capped at 22 students, have remained stable. Secondary classes in core subjects are getting smaller.

. . . secondary math classes averaged 20.3 students in 2000-01 and dropped to 18.5 by last year. Average size of secondary English/language arts classes fell from 20.2 students in 2000-01 to 17.8 by last year.

In an e-mail to Duncan, TEA Commissioner Robert Scott added:

– Texas is ranked 13th in Ed Week’s Quality Counts report. Quality Counts gave Texas an “A” in “Standards, Assessment and Accountability,” and an “A” in “Transitions and Alignment” of the Texas system with college and career readiness. . .

— The Texas class of 2011 posted a record-high math score on the ACT college entrance exam. The Texas average math score was 21.5 and was higher than the national average of 21.1. ACT scores from 2007 to 2011 showed increases in all four subjects.

Texas fourth- and eighth-graders aced the 2009 NAEP science exam, Scott wrote. In eighth grade, black Texans were first in the nation compared to other blacks, white Texans tied with whites in high-scoring Massachusetts and Hispanics ranked eighth.

Perry has resisted Race To the Top, so perhaps Duncan’s antipathy is all about education policy. But it looks as though the education secretary is playing presidential politics. That’s not the way to build bipartisan consensus.




Teacher quality trumps class size

Would you prefer your child to be in small class taught by a mediocre teacher or a slightly larger class taught by an excellent teacher? Small class size is overrated, writes Larry Sand, president of the California Teachers Empowerment Network, in City Journal.

. . . since the mid-1950s, the U.S. student population has increased by 60 percent, while the number of public education workers, including teachers, administrators, and other non-certificated staff, has exploded by 300 percent.

. . . What’s more, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, teacher-pupil ratios across the nation have diminished steadily since 1955, when the ratio of public school teachers to students was 26.9 to one. By 1970, the ratio was 22.3 to one. And by 2007, the last year for which federal government statistics are available, the ratio came down to 15.5 to one.

Tennessee’s STAR experiment found lasting benefits, especially for black students, for classes of 14 to 17 students in kindergarten through third grade. Most of the gains appear to have occurred in kindergarten and first grade. 

Other studies have found no achievement gains in smaller classes, Sand writes.

In 1998, economist Eric Hanushek analyzed 277 class-size studies: 15 percent found achievement improved, 72 percent found no effect and 13 percent found reducing class size reduced achievement.

When California paid schools to cut K-3 classes to 20 students, suburban districts were able to hire good teachers to teach the additional classes. Inner-city schools made do with anyone they could find.  As a result, a RAND analysis found class-size reduction had no benefit for urban students.

If districts fired the lowest-performing 5 percent of teachers without hiring replacements, class sizes would rise only slightly, Sand writes. The savings could be used for “increased salaries, books, computers, or whatever the individual school district chooses.”

Benefits vs. jobs

Wisconsin’s controversial law limiting public employees’ bargaining power will enable a district to hire more teachers to cut class sizes, reports the Appleton Post Crescent.

As changes to collective bargaining powers for public workers take effect today, the Kaukauna Area School District is poised to swing from a projected $400,000 budget shortfall next year to a $1.5 million surplus due to health care and retirement savings.

The Kaukauna School Board approved changes Monday to its employee handbook that require staff to cover 12.6 percent of their health insurance and to contribute 5.8 percent of their wages to the state’s pension system, in accordance with the new collective bargaining law, commonly known as Act 10.

Increased staffing also will make it possible to “identify and support students needing individual assistance through individual and small group experiences,” said the school board president.

Teachers will have less take-home pay, but more teachers will have jobs.

Via Ann Althouse.

Milwaukee Public Schools is laying off 354 teachers. In all, 519 staffers will be laid off and 500 vacancies will not be filled. Class sizes will increase and old textbooks won’t be replaced. If the union agrees to contribute 5.8 percent of wages to retirement benefits, the district can save 198 teachers’ jobs.

California private schools regain students

As California public schools raise class sizes and shorten the school year, more middle-class parents are turning to private schools, reports the San Jose Mercury News.

The recession cut California’s private-school enrollment from 10 percent of school-age children to 8 percent in the last decade. Now several San Jose area private schools say inquiries and applications are up 25 percent to 40 percent. A Christian school that closed several years ago is reopening to meet the demand.

Breakfast with Arne

Education Secretary Arne Duncan breakfasted with ed bloggers the other day. Michele McNeil summarizes on Politics K-12.

RiShawn Biddle on Dropout Nation highlights Duncan’s thoughts on class size.

Class size has been a sacred cow. We have to [put it on the table]. I have two kids. Given the choice between giving them a great teacher working with 28 kids or a mediocre teacher with 23, I’ll take the 28. Why not give the great teacher with 28 kids, $20,000, $25,000 more and give the rest [of the savings] to the district? Parents haven’t been given the choice. We need to have that conversation. Why don’t we have that conversation?

Rick Hess takes credit for the idea that “selectively raising class size” is different from “simple-minded calls for bigger classes.” (Andrew Rotherham has jumped on the bandwagon.)

Duncan said, “I’m not for collaboration for collaboration’s sake. Collaboration around the status quo is a real problem. . . . This is not about kumbaya.”

Asked about the standoff in Wisconsin, Duncan said, “You had a union that had been historically more intransigent, but was moving. You don’t want to hit them with a hammer.”

Dana Goldstein has several posts on the meeting.

I was invited but couldn’t make it, so I’ve got a brief meeting scheduled with Duncan next Friday, when I’ll be in D.C.

Actually, we’re flying to Baltimore to visit my stepdaughter and her family, which now includes Lillian Nicole (“Lily”), born March 2. I mentioned a week ago that my stepdaughter had made it through surgery without giving birth at 30 weeks. She made it to 31 weeks. Lily was two pounds, five ounces at birth but otherwise healthy. By the standards of modern medicine — thank you, modern medicine — Lily is only “moderately premature” and expected to go home in a few months or less.