Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Education in Trouble?

How does class size affect learning?

I try to avoid watching the news. Fires, beatings, bodies turning up in the woods... I'd rather not know. But sometimes news sneaks through. Lately I've heard a lot about cuts in education spending – both locally and nationally – and what it's doing to schools. Teachers are getting pink slips and classroom size is increasing. The average class size for ninth grade math and English in Los Angeles was recently raised nearly 75%, from 20 to 34. Detroit is considering upping their max class size to 60.

Exactly how much of a negative effect larger class sizes have on learning is a topic of debate. The obvious negatives are that kids get less individual attention, and there's more work for each teacher. Several studies have shown that students learn more effectively in smaller classrooms. Some argue, however, that having skilled teachers is more important as well as more cost effective. Unless money trees sprout in public parks across the country this summer, we'll soon be finding out how much impact the cuts will have and hoping students don't become victims of a struggling public education system.

What can you do to help your student succeed, short of selling the ancestral summer home to pay for private school tuition? Be involved. Know your child's teacher and what's going on at the school, and keep track of homework assignments. Involve your kids in extracurricular activities. Get help if they're struggling. Tutoring services are widely available, from math help to SAT tutoring. Many schools also have in-house tutors as well as guidance counselors who can help keep your budding scholar on the right track.

Also let your government representatives know that you think education is a priority, and that you vote for candidates who support schools. Since no one is dumb enough to run on an anti-schools platform, check their voting records to see what actions they put behind their words.