Across the country, states are being crushed by large deficits which are the result of a decreased tax base coupled with bloated government. To address the deficits, many governors and legislatures are looking to pare the sky high costs of public education to help bridge the gap. To the horror of many education advocates who have been arguing for years for reduced class sizes in order to improve academic performance, and unions who argue for smaller class sizes in order to increase their dues-paying member base, it looks like class sizes are going to start creeping up again.
Class size became such a hot topic over the past several decades that Florida and Texas enacted laws limiting class sizes to 18-25 and 22, respectively. California was a leader, establishing their Class Size Reduction program in 1966, which has cost them billions of dollars. Non-profit organizations such as Reduce Class Size Now and Class Size Matters focus entirely on the issue of decreasing class size. For good reason too, reductions in class size have been proven to improve academic outcomes for students in a wide range of controlled studies from California to Florida to Wisconsin. Further, some believe that there are health and economic benefits to be gained from smaller classes.
But no matter how good an idea it might be to reduce class size, economic reality will always get in the way of any government vision of utopia. To erase a $327 million deficit, the state of Michigan recently approved a plan to halve the number of schools in Detroit over the next four years. These cuts would potentially result in high school classes as large as 62. The much maligned Idaho state schools Superintendent, Tom Luna wants to increase class size in grades 4-12 to cut 770 teaching jobs. In many states the choice will come down to either fewer teachers or lower compensation for teachers. Given the seniority driven politics of the various unions, it seems that more often than not they will eliminate the younger teachers and grow class size.
Some argue that cutting class size isn’t that big of a deal, and in fact, may be good for the public education system. Both Japan and South Korea average more than 10 more students per class than the US, and have better outcomes. Continually dwindling class sizes over the past few decades have not produced the gains advocates claimed it would. Bill Gates argues that increasing class size would improve our schools by allowing the best teachers to reach more children.
The reality is that both smaller class size and high quality teachers are good for the child. Smaller class size is important because it reduces the span of control for the teacher and allows them to respond to the individual needs of their students. High quality teachers are important because they are the ones that can connect with a child, excite the child to learn, and help preserve or rekindle their thirst for knowledge. Both are best delivered through homeschooling, not traditional brick and mortar schools. Even the Hawkins homeschooling family, with ten children, has a student to teacher ratio that would quiet even the loudest union boss. The ultimate class size is 1:1. And the best teacher is a loving parent who puts the needs of their child first, before tenure, before pension, and before government holidays.
The debate over class size is worth having if we want to improve the public school system. However, for parents, the debate should focus on whether to send their kids off to failing government schools, or whether they should provide the ultimate educational experience through homeschooling.