USD 259 (Wichita) public schools superintendent Winston Brooks plans to use the majority of the anticipated increase in school funding to reduce class size. Evidence cited in other articles on this website show that smaller class sizes don’t produce better educational outcomes for students.
Because the conventional wisdom is that smaller class sizes are good for students, the extra money and smaller class sizes will be saluted as a victory for the children. Editorial writers, school administrators, teachers, and those who don’t care to confront facts will thank the Kansas Supreme Court and Kansas Legislature for saving the children.
The sad fact is that this seeming victory, a victory which does nothing to help children, will delay desperately needed reform for another year. In all likelihood reform will be delayed even longer, as if the legislature accedes to the court’s demand this year, it may also do so next year, when the court has called for even more spending.
Who benefits from smaller class size? The teachers unions do. Smaller class sizes mean a lighter workload for current teachers. More teachers (paying more union dues) need to be hired, as is the plan in Wichita.
But as mentioned earlier, smaller class size doesn’t help the students. That’s the danger in spending more on schools. It seems like the additional money should help the schools, and those who procure the money are treated as heroes. This illusion of a solution delays the reform that is badly needed.
What would truly help children? Overwhelming evidence points to school choice. As Harvard economist and researcher Caroline M. Hoxby said about the school voucher program in Milwaukee:
From 1998-1999 onwards, the schools that faced the most competition from the vouchers improved student achievement radically–by about 0.6 of a standard deviation each year. That is an enormous, almost unheard-of, improvement. Keep in mind the schools in question had had a long history of low achievement. Yet they were able to get their act together quickly. The most threatened schools improved the most, not only compared to other schools in Milwaukee but also compared to other schools in the state of Wisconsin that served poor, urban students.
Milwaukee shows what public school administrators can tell you: Schools can improve if they are under serious competition.
Why, then, don’t we have school choice in Wichita? The teachers unions and education establishment are against it. They don’t want to face the same type of free market forces that the rest of us face. They are in charge of educating children, they tell us they are doing the best they can, that everything they do is for the children and only the children, but they oppose desperately needed reform.
The most significant large-scale research study on class size proves that smaller class sizes make an important contribution to improved student performance. Even the schools affected by the Milwaukee voucher program benefitted from targeted lower class sizes to help their achievement. Unfortunately, Wichita Public Schools have almost double the class size in the most critical early grades when compared to the wealthy suburban districts. We MUST have funding to decrease class size, particularly in Kindergarten through second grade if we want to make a difference for kids in Wichita.
By the way, Phi Delta Kappan recently broke down student achievement results for public and private schools by ethnicity and family income level. Public schools won in every category over private. The myth of quality private school education is driven more by the characteristics of families who send kids there – greater value placed by family on education, greater education level of parents, greater wealth of families.