Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Raising class sizes, Ruining the schools

There are dangerous education deform templates in America that run the risk of establishing a horrific precedent for others all over the world.

The latest comes from Kansas City, Missouri's Public School District superintendent John Covington. The Parents Across America Blog explains:
Last week at a school board meeting, Kansas City, MO School District superintendent John Covington told the school board that there is no research that supports reduced class size linked to increased student achievement. During the meeting, Covington cited the views of Bill Gates, who has minimized the importance of class size and suggested that teachers be paid more for teaching larger classes.
Covington went on to say that his staff had identified the “best” teachers in the district and would be giving them additional students. This was less than a week before school was scheduled to begin. The day after this announcement, teachers in the early grades received their class lists. Some first grade teachers were assigned 37 students per class, and some kindergarten teachers had 25-30 – compared to other teachers in the same schools, who had twenty students per class. Interestingly, some of these larger classes were staffed with brand new Teach for America recruits.
Then on August 19, Covington hosted a breakfast for eight elementary classroom teachers from about six schools out of 23, in grades 3-5th, whom he identified as “the best in the district.” He did not explain how he determined that they were the best. He told them that if they were willing to take 6 to 8 additional students, he would give each of them them $10,000. This would mean they would have class sizes in the mid to upper thirties.
For the first year ever, principals were not allowed to assign teachers or kids to classes within their own buildings. Covington’s staff did all of that. They decided who would teach what grade level and which kids would be assigned to each teacher. Before, this has ALWAYS been handled by each principal for his/her school.
This is yet another example of how the suits have hijacked our education system to enact their own reforms that meet their needs. In this case the argument goes something like this:
  • Explicitly talk about student achievement while meaning nothing more than high scores on standardized tests.
  • Down play outside of the classroom factors (poverty and family) as mere excuses and over-emphasize the importance of inside of the classroom factors (teacher quality)
  • Show the public that student achievement (test scores) does not rise with lower class sizes nor fall with high class sizes
  • Define good teaching as producing high test scores.
  • Bribe teachers with merit pay and bonuses to increase test scores and willingly take on more students.
The result is that opportunistic superintendents like John Covington can save money and garnish large financial bonuses while padding their resumes in an intensive campaign wrought with shameless self-promotion -- all on the backs of our children.

Rod Paige orchestrated the Texas Miracle which was later reported to be nothing more than a mirage, but not before George W. Bush named him Secretary of Education.

Arne Duncan's record in Chicago has also proven to be at best troublesome, but that didn't stop him from being awarded the opportunity to do what didn't work in Chicago to the entire nation.

Beverly Hall won national praise and lavish bonuses during her 11 year tenure as Atlanta's Public School superintendent only to resign in 2010 because of a city-wide cheating scandal.

If John Covington in Kansas City, MO plays his cards right, he can cram real children into less classrooms while fabricating progress in the name of furthering his career.

When we go to Wall Street economists for our educational advice, we get what we pay for. When we allow Bill Gates to influence experiments on our children, we allow our children to be subjected to misguided theories that have already been proven wrong. Be wary of anyone who professes that class size doesn't matter. The research is clear: as long as you define student achievement as more than just high test scores then class size matters.

Until teachers, parents and students refuse our cooperation with these test and punish, control from afar corporate deformers, our children's education will continue to service the best interests of others.


  1. Just to clarify, Kansas City, Missouri Public Schools are not Kansas schools. Still a horrid thing he is doing, but it is across the state line from us. We have our own wackiness to deal with.

  2. Thanks for that clarification Jeff. I made a slight change to reflect this.


  3. That's outrageous! However, just as a comment, it seems that people in charge of educational matters are often as far from the field as possible and tend to turn their nightmares as well as delusions into reality elsewhere in the world as well. Large classroom sizes and no research, this Mr.Covington should do some reading! :)

    Aari from Estonia

  4. Even if you define students as only test scores, class size STILL matters. If teachers are judged based on that flawed data, it's just another means of crucifying us. Even test prep is taught more effectively in a smaller class. ANY teaching is more effective in a smaller class. It's just damn common sense. Anyone who denies that the amount of children in a teacher's classroom seriously affects the quality of education (even superficial test prep lessons) is just an ignorant moron.

  5. In case you missed the news, Covington walked in a week after classes began and tendered his resignation... after a couple days of speculation and politicizing by the newspaper, the truth came out- he had dumped KCMO for Detroit. (Ouch.)

    Some of the changes have been promising, such as ditching traditional grading systems in some of the elementary schools and replacing it with Standards Based System where the kids are making goal sheets and using multiple/varied intelligences to display their mastery of the subjects on their standards lists.

    Other changes were disheartening-- firing some good, but young and untenured teachers. Good older teachers took early retirement bonuses. But sadly some really rotten older teachers chose to stay on as teachers- some of them clearly dislike kids, but they were given a choice and stayed.

    I have met some of the new TFA teachers, my freshmen has TFA for Chinese and English. The Athletic Director has been put back in the classroom (yes he's still also in charge of all athletics in the school) and is teaching my freshman's biology class. The head football coach, who also coaches the girls' track and field and basketball teams, is teaching SIX algebra 1 classes- my freshman has him too. I WORRY that these gifted men are being overextended and underpaid in their roles.

    As far as a testimony to test scores/grades and class size. I homeschool my kids until at least age 13. So far my eldest entered a charter school in 9th and moved to a KCMO school in 11th- he went into public school capable of learning on his own PLUS quickly adapted to classroom life and is in the top 30% of his class, made a 1930 on the SAT. I do have 3 teens in the KCMO schools. I have 4 still at home. The experience of my kids is that they learn little in American high schools because they've covered most of the material in home school, even though at home school I never had textbooks, tests, grade cards, or honestly much written work requirements.


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