20 Monday Oct 2014
Batting the distractions away, today is a lovely day to advance a reformed outlook for Los Angeles’ schools. It’s time to leave jargon, hyperbole and spin aside and focus on the reality of any-child’s education experience in LAUSD.
From the actual halls my children traipse during a school day, this is what I know. One child sits in a classroom with nearly FIFTY children in it. The actual count is hard to know for a variety of reasons, not the least of which being that the actual kids assigned to the class is apparently one of those unknown knowables. Due to the insidious power of MiSiS, not only does no one know who is supposed to be where, not kids, teachers, administrators or parents – but that which is not known, changes daily. Like, wow.
And that is not the only insanely-large classroom my child suffers in: two out of five instructional classes hovers at 50 +/- 3 kids. Like, double wow.
Meanwhile, don’t kid yourself for one second that when parents “opt with their feet” for “Change” – it is this that they are opting for and against. They are opting against classrooms with too many children in them. They are opting for their child’s functional access to a teacher who functions. They are opting for charters because by informal survey of the websites of seven westside charter schools, their explicitly advertised class sizes range from 24-30, averaging 28. And private schools average (via informal survey of just 7, again) a full 10 students fewer at 18 (range 13-26).
The disparity of any-child’s opportunity for a teacher’s attention between these schools is just huge, huge, huge. And no one chooses inferior conditions. When people talk about “choice” there is some implication of variable circumstances that would make one choice preferable for one individual compared with a different set of circumstances that would favor a different choice for others (would you rather pistachio or mango ice cream today?). But no circumstances would ever argue for choosing a larger class size over a smaller one — not in a fair comparison where other circumstances are held equal. There are disingenuous arguments that bait-and-switch this matter, but in a true comparison, no one will opt for a K12 classroom of 50 students over one of 28 or 18.
To invoke teacher “quality” as is sometimes argued by the duplicitously named “reform movement”, as an extenuating factor is to selectively change the comparisons. Suggesting 50 students in front of a stellar teacher is better than 2 classrooms of 25 in front of a substandard teacher completely begs the question: why employ substandard teachers and how would you know one anyway? The reality is patent as families gravitate toward the realm not of better teachers, an indistinct concept at best, but of an objectively lower class count within a private education sector of charters and for-profits.
The ballooning of public district school class sizes has not just been a serendipitous or unfortunate happenstance, an “unknowable unknown”. It is an explicit political decision, furthered by decimating the budget for teachers and education. It is not solely the budgetary decisions of our now ex-superintendent that seemingly sought to substitute technology for teachers. It is as well the confidence of the people that has soured on their own human resources, on our very own people-powered economy of middle class jobs. We have knowingly failed to support the adequate education of our own young by an adequately trained army of teachers in adequate numbers. We can choose to cut these teachers’ livelihood but at what cost? At the expense of our own children’s welfare and our own egalitarian society? What sort of self-hating solution is that?
With the urgent changing of our children’s administrative guard comes the urgent opportunity to revitalize our priorities in keeping with any-child’s best interest. This means getting more of our teachers in front of more classrooms that house fewer of our children. Excellence is encouraged precisely when Class Size Matters because teaching and teachers matter. Our children are not computers to be programmed rotely with knowledge. It takes mutual effort to insinuate “learning” and conscious living inside of a kid, strategically and with finesse, recognizing the complexity and ambiguity of reality. This is hard work, it always will be hard work, and it will always by definition, be the task of a human being.
Please Prioritize Lower Class Sizes Now, Superintendent Cortines!