Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Doesn't Matter After All

Given the state of state budgets across the country, I imagine that we're going to be seeing several more stories like this one over the next few months. For those of you who don't believe in clicking on links, the headline reads, "Larger Class Sizes Ahead as Teachers Collect Pink Slips: Effect on students may be minimal as the acaemic benefits of small class sizes remain unclear."

As you may be able to guess from reading that headline, the point of the article is that class sizes are likely to increase in Chicago, but that parents shouldn't be worried because class sizes don't affect student performance that much.

I'm going to duck the whole question of how much class size affects achievement versus other things like teacher quality. Instead, I want to focus on why this story, why now. The answer, I think, it pretty obvious.

Imagine that you're a cook in a restaurant and everyone wants saffron in their meals. (For the record, I don't really know what saffron is, but it sounds fancier than pepper.) However, you can't really afford saffron because of budget cutbacks. What do you do? Well, you might try persuading people that saffron really doesn't do that much for a meal anyway. In fact, salt is just as good maybe even better. That's kind of what's happening here.

Unable to provide the kinds of class sizes that will keep parents happy, the schools are launching a PR push to say that class sizes aren't that important. What's really important is that you have good teachers. I'm sure we'll be hearing soon about how great the Chicago teaching corps is.

I imagine we'll soon be seeing more stories from education departments around the country downplaying the importance of small class sizes. Whether they believe their own press or not is something I can't say for sure. But, for now at least, what else are they going to do?

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