Gov targets classroom-size reduction rules. Go, Jerry, go

Sooner or later, the focus on the new state budget will shift to Jerry Brown’s ideas for giving local school districts more control over their spending decisions, starting with his push to suspend classroom-size reduction rules.

The state’s class size reduction program was initiated by then Gov. Pete Wilson, a Republican, in an almost forgotten era of fiscal plenty when the state enjoyed a surplus. Under Brown’s proposal, districts would still be allowed to keep class sizes small in elementary grades if they chose to do so and could afford to pay for the extra costs. But the essential point is that they would be allowed to spend the substantial subsidies — over $1,000 per student — they had been receiving from the state for other purposes.

This will be denounced as a rollback of “the most significant education reform enacted in California,” as I heard it described by CTA officials at a press conference a few years back. But I hope this claim is met with the cynicism it deserves. The CTA doesn’t back reform — unless the reform requires the hiring of more dues-paying teachers, as classroom-size reduction did. And does classroom-size reduction help students? One would think so — more teacher face time per student. A study from Tennessee based on the state’s Project STAR program seemed to bear this out. But California’s experience has not borne this out:

California … went universal with its program – handing out money to any district in the state that capped classes at 20 in grades K-3. This had the unintended effect of creating a run on good teachers: the best teachers tended to flee to the suburbs, which were suddenly hiring and which offered better pay and working conditions. (Many also already had smaller classes, so they were given state money for doing nothing – simply a case of the rich getting richer.)

Harder-to-staff schools soon found themselves in desperate need of bodies at the front of their classrooms. Overnight, nearly 21,000 new teachers were needed state-wide. People were hired off the street and granted emergency credentials to teach. The percentage of uncertified teachers skyrocketed: in 1995, about 1 in 50 California teachers lacked full credentials, compared to 1 in 7 teachers four years later. Poor children were, predictably, much more likely than middle-class or affluent children to be taught by unqualified teachers.

It’s little wonder, then, that the successes of Project STAR were nowhere to be seen in California.

So once again, school “reform” in California hurt those in poor, largely minority communities. Will this be pointed out by defenders of classroom-size reduction?

Nah. It’s “reform” — we say it is, therefore it is.

Will this be pointed out by journos covering this issue? WIll they ever notice the complaints of Gloria Romero and other Latino Dems about the toll the CTA agenda takes on minorities?

Nah. Why break with years of history?

6 thoughts on “Gov targets classroom-size reduction rules. Go, Jerry, go

  1. The LA Times had a front page article on Brown’s threatened cuts to education, but nowhere did they mention the actual size of the proposed budget or its constituent parts. Is this the dog that didn’t bark? Is there a good web source for historical state budgets? The state DOF site has good information but it’s not necessarily easy to navigate.

  2. Uncertified teachers certainly is not the problem. There is nothing magic about certification — anyone with a college degree will probably outperform a student of education with a certification.

    I’m sure California faces many educational challenges, but, please, don’t equate them with a lack of “certified” teachers. It ain’t rocket-science, teaching.

  3. It’s worth remembering that this never affected middle or high schools, and for most of this period all elementary school teachers had to pass the CBEST, certified or not. So “uncertified” teachers were only different in that they hadn’t gone to ed school.

    As is always the case with most moronic school reforms, this one was absurdly expensive and wasteful. But given the standards for all elementary school teachers at that time, I can’t say it did students any harm.

    I wonder if we could get more efficiency K-5 if we did the same subject specialization we do in middle and high schools? We could run all the kids through the best reading teachers, best math teachers, and so on.

    The Tennessee study showed some effects with low income African American boys, but with much smaller classes–12-16 students. There hasn’t been any evidence that dropping class sizes to 20 has any results.

  4. Teaching elementary school is probably best done with a teaching certificate. I’m not a big fan of Ed majors but I’ll grant that pre-adolescents do have their own mysterious mental constructs that affect how they think and learn in ways the average adult Doesn’t Necessarily Get.

    By middle and high school, a TC is probably a detriment, you don’t know as much about the subject as you should, and you probably aren’t as smart as the smarter kids on the topic so you can stay ahead of them and anticipate their wise-assery (you know, the one that makes them already sure you’re an idiot if you don’t see things their way, and look for anything that might indicate that. Hmmmm… Wait. What other group does that sound like…?).

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