Comedian Dhaya Lakshminarayanan tells a funny story about the challenge of teaching her mother the transitive property of mathematics (if a=b and b=c, then a=c). Mom just couldn’t get it, until Dhaya connected it to her mother’s favorite TV show, Seinfeld. If Jerry tells Elaine a secret (a=b), and Elaine tells it to Kramer (b=c), that’s just as if Jerry told Kramer (a=c). Ding, ding, ding! Finally, with a little help from Seinfeld, mom gets the transitive property.
That’s the sort of difference having some personal time with a teacher can make when you’re a child struggling to understand a concept. That’s why it’s confusing and frustrating that North Carolina lawmakers are now pushing to eliminate limits on class sizes in public schools.
The research is clear – class size makes a difference in student achievement. Supporters of the bill say eliminating class-size requirements will give school districts more flexibility in how they use state money. That’s the same reason Governor McCrory gave for his proposal to eliminate funding for teacher assistants in the second and third grades; instead, his budget would just give districts the money and let administrators decide where it should go.
The concern is that this sort of lump-sum approach further disconnects funding from the actual costs of educating students. If there are no standards for class sizes or teacher assistants, how will the state determine how much communities need to give their students an adequate education? How will our leaders determine how much to increase or decrease funding year to year?
School districts are still struggling to cope with years of successive budget cuts. Remediation funding, which helps students who have fallen behind catch up, has been cut by $690 million. Textbook funding is down 80%, which may be why so many North Carolina teachers have resorted to asking for donations to pay for materials for the new Common Core curriculum. School bus replacement funds are on hold indefinitely.
The competing needs are piling up. If you’re a superintendent and your students need remediation services, small classrooms, new textbooks and reliable buses in order to get a quality education, which needs do you ignore? For school districts in North Carolina, the choices are getting tougher. The questions are shifting from “How do you make sure we serve all of our students?” to “Which students do we leave behind?”
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