Tuesday, October 27, 2009

I Like Being on the Same Side of an Argument as Diane Ravitch

Ravitch, National Journal:

I would like to see public education improve, and I would like to see Catholic and other religious schools survive. So I have a simple principle to propose: Public money for public schools, private money for private schools. That way, entrepreneurs would stop picking the public's pocket for their enrichment, and philanthropists would be encouraged to support effective and worthy religious schools, especially those (like Catholic schools) that have helped poor and working-class families and children. The survival of inner-city Catholic education now hangs in the balance, and only private money can save it. And should.

This is a key underlying point. All the private money that's going into policy debates, prizes, etc. could have simply gone into private schools serving low-income populations, whether you like Catholic Schools (which, among other things, already have real estate) or small progressive schools like Community Prep in Providence (celebrating its 25th year!). I would have preferred that to the hostile takeover of the public sphere we've been experiencing.

On her blog:

We both recall that John Dewey wrote that what the best and wisest parent wants for his own child is what the community should want for all its children. That's a good starting point. What does the best and wisest parent want for his or her own child?

Certainly, that parent would want a school with small classes, which guarantees that her child would get personal attention. Class size is a pretty good indicator of what most people mean by quality. If you visit the most elite private schools, you can bet that they don't have 32 students in a class. On the Web sites of such schools, one learns that classes are typically 12 to 15 students to a teacher. Such luxury is unheard of in most public schools, with the possible exception of schools in tony suburbs. Many of those who pronounce that class size doesn't matter send their own children to schools with small classes.

Another indicator of quality is the presence of the arts. The best and wisest parent would not want his child to go to a school with no teachers of music, art, dance, or other arts. Yet we know that in most of our public schools today, the arts have been sacrificed to make more time for test-prepping.

One more point: That wise parent would demand schools that were physically attractive and well-maintained. He or she would not tolerate the neglect, deterioration, and obsolescence that we see so often in our schools. There are lots of other things that our mythical best-and-wisest parent would insist upon, but these three points, I think, are indisputable, and a good starting point.

This is the most effective counter-argument we've got.


Frank Krasicki said...

Tom unfortunately there is a flawed logic in the small classroom arguments.

First, educational improvement has only been suggested in the low elementary grades.

Secondly, study after study has failed to observe significantly more personal attention being shown to students in smaller classes despite teachers believing they're delivering it and despite the belief of parents that their children are getting it.

Personal attention comes not from class size but from a wholesale change in the methodology of practicing classroom instruction.

- krasicki

Tom Hoffman said...

Hi Frank,

I imagine all three of us are aware of that research and have strong ideas about major changes that should be made in classroom instruction.

But, it is still the case that when I'm looking at schools for my children, I'm going to consider small class sizes a strong positive indicator, regardless of what the research says, as will the vast majority of parents. That's what makes this an effective argument.

Let me put it this way -- the way we think about research and public policy is different than the way we think of research and raising our own children, or organizing our own families and community.

The relationship between research and education should fall somewhere between the two.

Frank Krasicki said...


It is these myths that continue to drive public education's costs and sustainability.

But what is most troubling is the inability or refusal of educators to honor the science of classroom research. When schools are active participants in promoting myth over science then how can education teach science or fact?

It is this built-in hypocrisy and disregard for facts and science that frustrate the science to have any veracity, no? If teachers can ignore facts then why can't fringe groups believe that the Flintstones is a documentary about the way people lived? Who does it hurt?

And how can we effectively lobby for sensible school reform when no one on either side cares about what might be in the best interest of the schools and children?

I think that by perpetuating lies, education advocates invite being marginalized. parents can believe anything they wish but the tax base is drying up all over the country and the cost of education has got to be regulated in sensible ways. I'm afraid that the pendulum will swing dramatically away from public education as it exists today unless it is truly changed internally to recognize reality.

Just thinking aloud.


Frank Krasicki

Tom Hoffman said...


I'm not, on the whole, a class-size hawk (although I am a total-student-load-per-teacher hawk).

And I'd say the point here is not "convince people that small class sizes are good," but to get people to confront the double standard they have between what they think is best for their kids and what is the right public policy for other people's children.

Peter said...

"[...] educational improvement has only been suggested in the low elementary grades."


I don't desire (generally) small(er) class sizes for my own child for "educational improvement" reasons as that is typically measured by testing outcomes. I value small classes as, ceteris paribus, they offer better opportunities in regard to relationships. How would you measure that?