Thursday, April 29, 2021

Support Small Class Sizes (and Hire Regents Who Make a Difference)

I'm glad to see Regent Kathleen Cashin advocating for smaller class sizes. I've got decades of experience teaching in both high school and college settings, and it's obvious to me that class size is a crucial factor in how effective my teaching is. In fact, it's even more important than the Danielson checklist my supervisor is forced to use when she observes my practice. I wouldn't expect a Regent to know that, because that's not what they do.

What exactly do they do? Generally, they seem to sit on their pedestals up in Albany in some building that looks like nothing more than Hogwarts. They sit passively as awful, inexcusable exams are put out in their name. Do they know what's in those exams? I'm gonna go out on a limb and doubt it. No thinking person could look at the English Regents exam and determine it tests anything more than the level of Common Coriness, hardly a skill I'd associate with being "college and career ready."

One of the worst experiences any teacher has is teaching to the test. It's particularly excruciating when you teach English language learners. Granted, Cashin gives valuable lip service to them in this article, and you can imagine how much I must appreciate that. This notwithstanding, I don't recall Regent Cashin (or any of her esteemed colleagues) raising a peep when direct English instruction was reduced for ELLs by a factor of 33-100%. So while it's great that perhaps they'll have smaller classes, what will they be learning?

Well, they could be prepping for the abysmal English Regents exam, which tests neither reading nor writing. They could even be prepping for the NYSESLAT exam, which purports to test English level but in fact does not. My colleagues and I have noticed, since the inception of this exam, that virtually all students test at too high a level. 

I spent one trying year teaching an ostensibly advanced class for ELLs. As I hadn't done it in some time, I began by assigning a novel, something I'd done with great success in the past. I quickly learned that very few of my students were equipped to read said novel. Not only that, but as I saw their writing, I couldn't help but notice that many of them would've greatly benefited from my beginning class. They didn't know how to construct a coherent sentence. Forget about paragraphs or essays. (That's okay, though, with Cashin and her fellow Albany geniuses.)

And pardon me, but where have the Regents been all these years while the rest of us were advocating for smaller classes? I don't recall a single one of them saying a single word as the CFE lawsuit was ignored for decades. It's not particularly bold to demand something that we've already gotten quite close to, and it's more coincidence than Regents activism that got us where we are today.

Yes, of course we should reduce class sizes. It's one of very few things we know to work, even as mayoral candidates like Andrew Yang push crackpot theories like merit pay, which has been around for over a century and has never worked anywhere. The Regents, though, are supposed to be educational leaders. They're supposed to guide us in a positive direction. They should be proactive. It behooves them to advocate for the best education New York students can have, all the time.

Instead, Regent Cashin has decided to go with the flow. While I'm glad she's gotten on board with a best practice, the fact that she waited until now to do it suggests she is not a leader, but an opportunist at worst, and a follower at best. 

Leaders can do better than this.

blog comments powered by Disqus