At a Wichita school bond issue debate on October 14, 2008, I challenged USD 259, the Wichita school district, to give evidence of their claim that smaller class sizes lead to better student achievement. That’s because I’ve been waiting a week for both USD 259 and the “Yes for Kids” group to respond to my request for references to the research they presumably relied on when formulating these claims.
The next day, while speaking to the Wichita Downtown Lions Club, Wichita school board president Lynn Rogers said “If you just put in the words ‘class size reduction’ to Google, you’ll get 609,000 entries. There’s plenty of research.”
I think it says a lot about the credibility of the arguments advanced by the Wichita school district when the district’s communications office and the citizens group that supports the bond issue can’t quickly produce references to evidence that supports their claims. It seems likely that the school district has no such evidence. Otherwise, why wouldn’t they produce it when citizens ask for it? Why wouldn’t they provide links to it on their informational websites?
Has no one asked the district for such evidence? Hasn’t a single news reporter bothered to fact check some of the district’s claims?
Back to Mr. Rogers and the Google search. I wonder if he actually read any of the articles that appear in the results of this search.
For example, the fourth article that appeared when I performed the Google search recommended by Mr. Rogers is from the Heartland Institute. It’s titled “Class-Size Reduction Brings Mixed Results” and starts with this passage:
Two recent studies of student achievement for students enrolled in class-size reduction programs in Wisconsin and California offer mixed results and call into question the cost effectiveness of large-scale programs with mandatory class-size caps.
The seventh article is from Education Week, and it’s titled “Class-Size Reductions Seen of Limited Help on Achievement Gap.”
Some of the search results do support smaller class sizes. One result was from the National Education Association, the teachers union. That union, as you might expect, supports anything that makes teachers’ jobs easier, no matter how much it costs and without consideration to whether it does students any good.
This is not the only evidence the school district has had difficulty producing. A request for evidence of how arts and athletics improve student achievement took from September 29 to October 8 to fulfill. Shouldn’t this be easy to produce, given that the district uses it as an argument for the need for the bond issue?
Until the Wichita school district and its supporting campaign groups — or the Wichita Eagle Editorial Board, for that matter — can produce references to the evidence they rely on when making their claims, Wichitans should rightly be skeptical of their claims. Saying “it’s all about the kids” doesn’t cut it.