Monday, September 19, 2011

Is Half a Story Better than None?

I'm fascinated by this article in NY Mag, and the more I think about it, the more I change my mind why that is. At first blush, I thought it did a good job of encapsulating both sides of class size. But on closer examination, it kind of paints class-size advocates as fanatics, while offering little or nothing in the way of why we believe as we do. On the other hand, it portrays the other side fairly well--reasonable class sizes cost too much, and union is bad.

I've taught classes of 15, 25, and 35, and I can tell you there's a world of difference in what you can accomplish. Folks like Bloomberg, Klein and Obama place their kids in private schools with class sizes below 15, but have no problem advocating larger class sizes for our children. In fact, those who administrate schools ought to be required to patronize them, rather than utilizing them as experiments for Bill Gates and the other billionaires who want to tell us how our kids should be treated. The article states class sizes in higher grades may go higher than 27--that's absurd. In my school there are dozens of classes over 34, the UFT contractual limit, and plenty right at 34. This is what happens when you eliminate 10% of working teachers via attrition and hope for the best.

Meanwhile, I hope in vain publications like New York will offer its readers the full story. It's ridiculous to those of us in the field, those of us who know from firsthand experience what class size means to call it a "red herring." I'd like to see people who write such things control 35 teenagers at a time and tell me it doesn't matter.

Finally, there's this conclusion:

As it happens, there are people in the city Department of Education working on open-minded, teacher-friendly methods of improving training and evaluation. And, obviously, not all rank-and-file teachers are opposed to structural changes. The problem is that the people who are in charge still believe that school reform is war. And nothing much about New York City education is going to change while that remains the case. 

I'm curious who these people are, and why they're working on "open-minded, teacher-friendly methods of improving training and evaluation." After all, there is a state agreement that mandates any such method be negotiated with the UFT.

Furthermore, since Bloomberg took office, I have seen nothing open-minded or teacher friendly. I have grown used to broken promises, not the least of which entails the billion dollars the DOE took to reduce class size--after which it went up every year. The DOE is engaged in releasing scores it specifically promised not to release. And studies suggest that "value-added" has no validity whatsoever. The last few lines make sense to me, but if it's true they're waging war on us, how on earth are we supposed to believe they're open-minded and teacher friendly? Do people really think teachers can be that stupid?

To say that not all rank and file teachers are opposed to structural changes is easy, but what precisely do these changes entail? We need to know before making judgments. Not all of us are taking money from Bill Gates and promoting corporate-friendly nonsense.

What we need, desperately, is a press that's willing to dig for the truth, a press that will not grant credibility to nonsensical "reforms" simply because billionaires say they're a good idea, a press that will challenge the status quo. I'm sure there are plenty of reporters quite capable of this, and I know a few that rise to the occasion.

Regrettably, those who depend on New York magazine for info are far from getting the full story here.
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