Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

EDUCATION; Asking Why

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

EDUCATION; Asking Why

Article excerpt

Union membership. Those two words sum up the drive to reduce classroom sizes in the public schools.

School superintendents oppose the measure that will be on the ballot Nov. 5. University presidents agree that it would be a disaster.

Polls show the voters don't like it either -- but only when they know the cost.

Proponents are determined to keep them from knowing.

The proposal to require small class sizes was not put on the ballot by the Legislature. It was done by citizen initiative. Liberals eager to raise the cost and size of government put on a signature-collection campaign and garnered enough signatures.

It has a psychological appeal. People intuitively know that one person can teach one or two children more effectively than one trying to teach 40.

But there is a sizable gray area in between.

Any competent teacher has a span of control. Most are capable of teaching 20 to 30 children at a time effectively. That is why class sizes nationwide have been in that range for the past century.

Actually, they have been trending downward, as the money spent on education has gone upward. But, despite both those trends, educational outcomes have been flat or declining.

Thus, the idea that reducing classroom sizes will improve education is only a faint hope, at best. There is no rational basis and, in fact, there is much evidence to the contrary.

Eric Hanushek of Rochester University has done research in this field and concluded that reductions well in excess of those required by the Florida measure are needed to post any gains, and even then the gains are confined to the first three or four grades. The Florida proposal reduces class sizes in all grades.

In short, the cost-benefit ratio clearly is against the proposal.

California tried to build its way to better education and failed. It spent more than $8 billion reducing class sizes and got little, if any, gain.

In Florida's case, the amendment would require at least $27.5 billion through 2010 to build the additional school capacity and hire additional teachers, along with all the staff needed. …

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