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Thursday, January 10, 2013

Class Size, pack them deep and pay them cheap

The Times Union and the Folio both reported Duval County Public School’s potential penalty for violating the class size amendment. They also both ran a quote from Ashley Smith Juarez who said, that there was no data suggesting a connection between class size and student performance.

What neither did however was point out how absolutely wrong she is and since during her whole academic career she benefited from smaller classes what a hypocrite this statement makes her.

But before I get into that let me explain that while her statement outrages me I am more so about the lack of coverage it received. Mrs. Smith-Juarez by virtue of being elected to the school board has a measure of credibility. She is one of 7 people in charge of Jacksonville’s second biggest employer, their budget is bigger than the city’s budget, she is helping create policy for 123,000 children and all of these things mean people will listen to and believe what she says. So when the media lets her get away with things that are manifestly wrong then all of us are done a disservice, we all suffer.

Some will think, since Mrs. Smith-Juarez said there is no connection between smaller classes and achievement then why are we spending money on it? Furthermore they won’t resist efforts to get rid of or dismantle the class size amendment, which is something the Florida Legislature has been trying to do since the first day it passed. Initially they tried to have it over turned and when that didn’t work they gutted it instead. They cut the classes considered core in half, which eliminated smaller class sizes for many subjects. Foreign languages, electives, heck even A.P. courses are no longer considered core.

With her being on the school board many people will think she is an expert on education matters. Why else would people have voted for her unless they thought she knew what she was doing, though I suspect the nearly 200,000 dollars she spent on her campaign didn’t hurt. So when she says something education related many people are going to take it at face value that she is correct and if the media refuses to fact check her then for many the matter is closed.

This matter should not be closed, instead since she got this so wrong we should now be checking everything she has said.

Now that you know why I am outraged let me explain how she is wrong.

Mrs. Smith Juarez is a hypocrite. I know what some of you are thinking, don’t sugarcoat it Chris. Well I am not. First she went to the Bolles School and according to the web site Find the Best Boarding School, the average class size is 15 and the teacher/student ration is 11.2. I wonder if that played a role in the decision to send her there?

Then she went to Vanderbilt and they too tout their smaller classes. According to US News and World Report, the student teacher ratio is 8 to 1 and 61.7 percent of their classes have fewer than 20 students. I wonder if that played a role in her going there too.

Finally when Smith Juarez returned to town to teach she didn’t apply at one of those troubled public schools with 22-25 and sometimes 30 or more kids in their class, no she got a job at an independent school that nobody had ever heard or at least that’s what she told Shannon Ogden when she was running for school board on his show. Oh what’s the name of that little independent school? Bolles of course. .

Her entire academic career was spent at schools that celebrate and purposely have smaller classes and I am sure it’s not because stupid people run them and she then has the nerve to say smaller classes don’t matter. Which begs the question why does she think smaller classes were great for her and her well to do friends but are pointless for public school kids?  Perhaps she would prefer Florida’s old strategy of pack them deep (classes) and pay them cheap (teachers) but I don’t know any teachers or parents who would want to go back to those times.

This is actually a ludicrous discussion. I should be able to just say, ask any public school teacher if they think they would do a better job with 25 kids or 15 but that’s not evidence and Mrs. Smith-Juarez erroneously says there is none.

Maybe she was to busy running the Chartrand foundation which says teachers aren’t professionals and neither their experience nor education matter to notice “ALL” the evidence available.

Because she missed the Princeton study that said in the long run we would save money because of differentiated and individualized instruction.

She also missed among many others the gold standard of smaller class studies, the Tennessee STAR study that tracked the SAT and ACT scores of the Tennessee students when they graduated from high school and established that the students enrolled in small classes during their first four years of education had higher average test scores than students enrolled in regular-size classes during those early grades.

Its not just educators who understand smaller classes work either. Economist Clive Belfield of Queens College in New York wrote, larger classes typically trigger higher dropout rates and wind up costing more in the long run with less educated workers who pay less in taxes. He was an expert witness in the Texas school finance trial. Florida has a similar suit working its way through our courts.

I could literally go on and on and on and if you would like to know more, to see more evidence, more connections and more data then just go to my blog Education Matters and type class size into the search box, 8 pages of result will come up.

I suppose I can’t really blame Ashley Smith-Juarez for benefiting from smaller classes and ignoring all the evidence about how valuable they are. Her mentor Gary Chartrand thinks the same thing. In fact he said in the Daily Record last spring, “We need to repeal the class-size amendment and take the money and reinvest it.” He continued saying, there is “no empirical evidence anywhere” that it improves student performance. Um anywhere? 

Oh and who is Gary Chartrand? Well friends he went from top fifty in grocery store news to chair of the state board of education. That’s right, this evidence and fact denying grocer is running the whole show.  

And that’s the problem, we have people, most of who never taught a day in their lives and most of who sent their children to private schools where small classes matter, running education going with their guts and opinions rather than things like facts and evidence when crafting education policies.

Well that and the media giving them a pass. 

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