Friday, May 15, 2009

British infants' classrooms 'becoming increasingly overcrowded’

A considerable irony here: It is only with the very young that small classes seem to be beneficial. The class size fetish is in general a crock, according to the research. Mandates to reduce class sizes just encourage the hiring of incompetent teachers. See here. See also the article immediately below this one

The number of unlawfully large classes for infants has more than doubled in two years, according to government figures released yesterday. Ten thousand pupils aged 5 to 7 are taught in classes of more than 30 children. This age group should be taught in smaller groups but the number of infant classes classed as unlawfully large has risen from 130 in 2007 to 310 this year.

David Laws, the Liberal Democrat Shadow Schools Secretary, said: “The number of children in unacceptably large classes has rocketed over recent years. These huge classes make it difficult for teachers to give our youngest children the individual attention they need when they start school.

“The situation could be even worse next year given the shortage of school places across the country. We know that smaller infant classes make a real difference. We need to be cutting class sizes to private school levels of 15.”

Nick Gibb, the Tory schools spokesman, said: “The huge rise in unlawfully large class sizes underlines concern that there will not be enough primary provision to cover the likely number of children needing a place in September. “It would be a tragedy if the Government’s short-term policy of reducing surplus places led to children missing their first few weeks of school.”

Civitas, the think-tank, said even class sizes defined as small — under 30 — were too big, particularly when compared with other countries. An official said: “Academic research on class size defines ‘small’ as being between 15 and 20 pupils in a class. Yet in 1997, the Government’s pledge for small infant class sizes set a legal limit of 30 pupils. The Government has failed to honour even this flawed pledge by allowing infant classes over 30 in some circumstances.”

Christine Blower, the General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: “The Government’s pledge to reduce class sizes appears to be unravelling at the edges. For all those primary teachers who are now facing the impossible job of fully responding to each child’s needs in excessively large classes, this deterioration is a blow both to their stress levels and to teaching and learning.”


Rock star pay for rock star teachers

Bang for the buck has been declining for decades in American public schools. We spend at record levels, employ vast numbers of people, but student test scores have been stubbornly flat. At the Goldwater Institute, we released a blueprint for a new school model that hopes to reverse this trend. Our roadmap, “New Millennium Schools: Delivering Six-Figure Teacher Salaries in Return for Outstanding Student Learning Gains,” scraps many current practices and focuses financial resources on what research shows makes a difference: attracting and keeping high-quality teachers in the classroom.

In response to an online news story last year, a Nevada elementary school teacher left a telling comment: she had 34 students in her classroom and she was angry. Total revenue generated by this classroom, at $11,000 per child, was $374,000. Assuming the teacher has a total compensation package of $60,000, the question becomes, what did the school district do with the other $314,000?

That, in fact, is what she’s angry about. Her school has eight teachers in “non-classroom assignments.” These “teachers” are in addition to the administrators, paraprofessionals, specialists, and assorted others who work in schools but actually don’t teach. Whatever these people do doesn’t seem to be helping children learn: 43 percent of fourth-graders in Nevada can’t read at fourth-grade level according to national tests.

Other countries manage their schools much more effectively than America. In “How the World’s Best Performing Schools Come Out on Top,” the international consulting firm McKinsey & Company found the answer is to focus on teacher quality. In South Korea, for example, schools have average class sizes twice as large as the United States, 49 versus 23, but score 21 percent higher on international seventh-grade math tests. What might help explain that unexpected result? South Korean schools draw from the top 5 percent of college graduates. American schools, by contrast, recruit their teachers, on average, from the bottom third of college students.

How do South Korean schools attract the top university students? Money. Larger class sizes frees up the resources to pay South Korean teachers much higher salaries, drawing the best and brightest into the profession. If American schools paid veteran teachers as well as South Korean schools do, teachers would average more than $116,000 in annual salary.

America must stop the decades-old practice of emphasizing the quantity of school employees and replace it with a rigorous focus on the quality of each teacher. A growing body of research shows that the skill level of individual teachers is by far the most important factor in determining how much students will learn. Students with high-quality teachers have been found to learn 50 percent more of any given subject than those with low-quality teachers for three years in a row.

This same research shows that America’s current limited-supply of high-quality teachers are clustered in suburban schools. What this means is that the students who need access to a high-quality teacher—inner-city, low-income children—are least likely to have it. Teacher quality literally makes the difference between literacy and illiteracy for many students.

The evidence is clear: teacher quality is far more important than small variations in class size. So every child needs access to high-quality teachers. Our solution: identify high-quality teachers by measuring how much their students learn during a school year, pay them what they deserve, and give more students the opportunity to learn from them.

With schools around the country facing teacher lay-offs because of state budget deficits, is now really the time to call for increasing teacher salaries? Absolutely. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush describes American public schools as an 8-Track in an iPod world. There is more than enough money in the system to reward outstanding performance with outstanding compensation. There’s never been a better time for schools to identify and let go their worst performing teachers.

“New Millennium Schools” proposes giving high-quality teachers a bonus for each additional student they add to their classroom. The bonus would amount to two-thirds of the per-pupil funding that the school receives. Using Arizona’s funding for charter schools, which is modest by national standards, this would give teachers a $5,200 bonus per-child above a class size of 20. A teacher with a class size in the low 30s, about the same as when the baby-boomers went to school, would make six figures.

Six-figure teacher salaries would not only allow schools to properly reward the long-suffering, high-quality teachers already in the classroom, but also to recruit the most capable and ambitious college students.

A school’s job is to equip children with the academic knowledge and skills they need to succeed in life, not employ as many adults as possible. It’s time to focus resources on quality and give rock star teachers rock star pay.


No comments: