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School Funding, Class Size, & accountability
Subj:      Re: [Mpls] School funding, class size, accountability
Date:     11/13/2001 12:57:40 PM Central Standard Time

In a message dated 11/12/2001 8:04:21 PM Central Standard Time,
Kathy Kosnoff writes:

>  Reduced class size is a tool that we as taxpayers gave and keep giving
>  Minneapolis teachers.  It is recognition that any amount of individualized
>  instruction is a boost to both the gifted and the struggling student and
>  that even our best teachers can do more for each child if there are fewer
>  children to do for.  It also is how we city people recognize that the
>  diversity of ability, language, etc. in our schools, which has kept most
>  us in the city so our kids can experience a range of peers, requires that
>  give teachers that extra tool to be able to serve the range of needs in
>  every classroom. They are the front line--don't suggest that we take away
>  this tool and ask them to keep building better products.
>     Now, if you are disgruntled, as many of us are, with the bottom-line
>  results, that is a question of administration and Board accountability.  
>  is legitimate to question and scrutinize how referendum dollars and other
>  district appropriations are being spent. And that .... is where this
>  discussion should be headed before we consider trashing the idea of
>  class size.

I agree with the above statement.  

It has been my contention that the academic achievement gap between high- and
low-income students has gotten bigger, rather than smaller because of how the
board implemented the community school plan.  The board approved school
attendance boundaries and the siting of new schools that greatly reduced the
specific weight of low-income and nonwhite students in some schools, and
increased it in others.

Why has the academic achievement gap gotten bigger, rather than smaller, as
the board predicted?  Did the Community School Plan bring about a measurable
increase in parent involvement?  If it brought about more parent involvement,
why didn't it produce the promised results?  If it didn't bring about more
parent involvement, we must ask why the theory doesn't fit the facts.

In an earlier e-mail I noted that the board had decided to spend class-size
reduction money on teachers' aids instead of teachers at schools that were
overenrolled.  That was a byproduct of putting the Community School Plan on a
fast track and preventing students at overenrolled schools from transferring
to under-enrolled schools.

The board based its decision to reduce class size on research that indicates
that class size makes a difference.  A study that most board members seem to
regard as authoritative is Project STAR.

Project STAR researchers concluded that adding a teacher's aid to a regular
size classroom doesn't affect test scores. Cutting class size does affect
test scores.  Perhaps the district's class size reduction program didn't
improve test scores in most of the high poverty schools because it was
abandoned in most of those schools.  

On the other hand, the district had at least a couple of model, high poverty
schools, including North Star elementary, which, a few years ago, posted
scores on academic achievement tests above the district average.  North Star
reportedly reduced its average K-3 class size to below the districtwide goal
of 19.  Reports to the board suggested that most of the North Star teachers
were likely to stay put for a while.

Aside from the direct benefits of small class sizes, there appear to be indirect
benefits, such as a lower rate of teacher turnover, which reduces the
concentration of inexperienced teachers over time.  

Dennis Schapiro questioned the efficacy of class size reduction as a strategy
for boosting student performance with the following arguments:

   "Researchers are adamant in saying that you cannot generalize to sizes
above 17 (and folks doing a similar study in Wisconsin have argued that
class size reductions that leave classes larger than 15 are unlikely to
show the same gains.) Minneapolis never promised class sizes smaller
than 19."
   "There is disagreement whether gains can be sustained if the time in
smaller classes is less than 3 years...which makes it a questionable
strategy unless coupled with efforts to keep students in the same school
system for 3 years....the argument for stability."

Any strategy to boost student achievement that is employed by the district
will be of dubious value to students who are not continuously enrolled in the
district.  The stability argument can be used against any and all strategies
the district might employ.

I'm sure that there are highly mobile students in the state of Tennessee,
including some who were followed in the Project STAR study.  The presence of
mobile students didn't prevent students who were continuously enrolled in
small class rooms from reaping the benefits of small class sizes.   

It is true that one cannot expect to replicate the results of a study if one
does not replicate the conditions under which it was conducted.  However, the
district claims that high poverty schools have the option of replicating
those conditions.

The district achieved an average of 19.5 students per K-3 classroom in the
1994-1995 school year.  It was a little closer to 19 by 1999.  High-poverty
schools are getting compensatory money, and many high poverty schools are
using that money to buy down class sizes, according to Catherine Shreves,
who cites Lincoln Elementary School as a high poverty school that uses
compensatory money to buy down class sizes and is "beating the odds"
([Mpls] Re: K-12 Schools; 31 October 2001).

Dennis Schapiro concludes:
"Small class size is a good idea, but it is far from a certain bet and is
only one of several possible strategies to help students. Several
alternatives have been offered on this list. I would not suggest that
schools should abandon all other strategies in the name of class size. I
would not call pursuing those other strategies thoughtfully to be a
misappropriation of funds, regardless of the definition."

However, the alternatives to class size reduction used in most of the high
poverty schools are clearly less effective as a means to improve student
performance.  By sticking with policies that do not improve student
achievement, and rejecting policies that do, the board is certainly acting in
an irresponsible and unethical manner.  
-Doug Mann, King Field

Doug Mann for School Board web site:
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