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Making Choices

As I’ve mentioned before in this space, next year’s budget here in the overly-large school district stinks.

One of the primary ways the superintendent plans to close the big deficit is to raise class sizes, possibly by as many as two students.

But in his Class Struggle column this week, Jay Mathews plays let’s pretend and wants us to imagine that our system gets a big pot full of money that fixes everything.

With that money, the school system could make each class, on average, two students smaller, or it could do what some high-achieving schools do: Keep class sizes large and focus instead on more energetic recruiting and training of teachers.

Considering that research demonstrates that small changes in class size alone has little effect on student achievement, maybe we should try Mathews idea.

Of course, here in the real world, it ain’t gonna happen.

Whenever the budget is cut, professional development is one of the first things to go. It’s also one of the last to get increased in good times.

Besides, school administrators and politicians have come to expect teachers to pay their own way, both in terms of money and time, when it comes to their own continuing education.

And I’m really not sure what he means by “more energetic recruiting”.

Realistically speaking, finding and retaining better teachers is going to be much tougher when pay scales are frozen, not to mention the reduced classroom support. I doubt more energy will help.

The bottom line is that Mathews is right that improving teacher quality is the most important factor in improving American education.

However, it’s also the piece of the puzzle that will be the most difficult, and probably the most expensive, to make happen.


  1. Dave

    How do you feel that personal professional development fits in to this?

    When it comes to training, I think we all have to meet in the middle, and that means that professional, salaried employees (in all industries) need to take advantage of the amazing opportunities that the Internet allows. Our professional, long-term-planning bosses need to allow us access to do so.

    Much like student performance, the hard part is figuring out how to help people who aren’t interested in helping themselves.

  2. Tim

    Any good teacher is going to be continually participating in professional development opportunities without waiting for someone from their school to suggest or pay for it. I doubt that will change and probably shouldn’t.

    However, if we really want to improve American education, we need to take teacher training much more seriously. I think that every teacher needs to have their own IEP that’s tailored to meet both their needs and the goals of the school. And then the school/district/state/feds need to commit to paying for a large chunk of it.

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