Saturday, September 2, 2023

Bloomberg: Just Pack Those Kids In There

Michael Bloomberg, the very prototype of the wealthy public ed dismantler, took to the pages of the Washington Post last week to complain about class size reduction mandates.

"Historic learning deficits!" he cries, which is a variety of baloney brands. Sure, students have lost a few steps thanks to the pandemic, but when we start throwing the words "deficit" and "historic" around, well-- history tells us that in the not-too-distant past a considerably smaller percentage of children attended or finished school. 

But he's bringing that up only so he can poo-poo elected officials who have created "a policy that will aid their re-election efforts without helping kids: mandating smaller classes."

Class size mandates, he says, are "a favorite policy of the teachers’ unions, not least because they often require districts to hire more unionized teachers." Just a political ploy, not an educational one.

Smaller classes would be worth the enormous new expenditures on staff and facilities if they produced the results that supporters tout — but, as experience and data show, they don’t.

Bloomberg is going to wave hands in the general direction of research that suggests that smaller class sizes don't raise test scores. We could also wave hands in the direction of a mountain of research detailing the benefits of class size. But the class size argument is mostly a silly argument to throw data at.

If you want to pull up some data to impress me, show me the data on how many parents say, "I want my kid in a class that's more crowded!" Yes, there's research that supposedly shows that parents will choose larger classes--but the choice given in those surveys is "Would you rather have a bad teacher and a small class, or a good teacher and a big class." Find me a parent who wouldn't choose "good teacher and small class."

Find me the parents demanding that Phillips Exeter get rid of those Harkness Tables and squeeze more students in. Heck, find me an account of that time that Michael Bloomberg complained to the folks at The Spence School that his daughter's tuition was being wasted because their school only had class sizes of 13-14 students in upper grades.

Or find me a teacher who says, "I can definitely do better work with more students in the class. "Nope. In fact, there's research out there that says teachers would give up salary to have a smaller class. It's not complicated. Every teacher understands that the fewer students there are, the more assignments can be handled, the more feedback can be given, the more attention individual students can get. 

The Super Sardinemaster teaching model is a reformster fave because it would be cheaper and easier for management. But it has never caught on anywhere because nobody actually wants it, at least not anybody directly connected to a classroom. 

Bloomberg is correct is saying that New York's mandate will have less effect on higher poverty schools because those schools already have better class sizes. His argument that the mandate will sap funding from higher-poverty schools--well, that's a nicer face on "My taxes might go up to fund this!" And his argument that this will drain staff from high poverty schools by making small class jobs in wealthy schools which will have drawing power for staff--well, that's another way to say that teaching in an overcrowded classroom is as unattractive as teaching in a high-poverty classroom, which could only be true if overcrowded classrooms are bad.

Bloomberg says spend the money in better ways, like tutoring or summer school (you know--where a student gets a class of a really small size). Don't hire more teachers-- do merit pay (which never works) or more pay for underserved areas (which helps...somehow). 

About eight paragraphs in, we get a hint of what Bloomberg's real beef may be. This year, he sputters, the teachers' union sued to prevent Success Academy from occupying some unused classrooms in a public school building (charters are not subject to the class size mandate). This "outrageous attack" failed. But now I'm thinking that besides needing more teachers, the class size mandate would also require more classrooms, and charter schools would lose a lot of that cheap real estate they get to commandeer from public schools. And that would be a real pain for charter-loving Michael Bloomberg.

This "analysis" is silly. Smaller class sizes are a win for everyone except for people who want public education to stay as cheap as possible by providing the minimum necessary service, and for NYC charter investors who don't want to lose taxpayer funded real estate. Bloomberg can chicken little all day about Learning Loss, but he doesn't have a thing to offer as a solution, nor does it seem to be what he's really concerned about. 

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