The strapped economy has every sector tightening belts, but the more I hear reports of what is being done at the K-12 level of education across the country, the more I am concerned. Concerned not only about the immediate impact for those children in K-12, but also about what repercussions we'll see in higher education as a result of those K-12 changes.
Georgia's State Board of Education has dropped mandatory class size limits at least for this year, per the Augusta Chronicle. Class sizes of up to 40 are expected. (Note that various studies, including this one by Finn & Achilles in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, finds that smaller class sizes are, unsurprisingly, related to higher academic achievement.
In Tennessee, many schools do not have the infrastructure to properly handle increases in enrollment. According to one Chattanooga Times Free Press article:
"Lunch starts even earlier at East Hamilton School — about 9:45 a.m. The school added about 350 new students this year and administrators have been forced to shuttle kids through the lunch line every 20 minutes. Because the dining hall was not built to accommodate East Hamilton’s student body of nearly 2,000, teachers and students must adhere to a very strict schedule."
Back in the school district I grew up in, teachers acquiesced to pay cuts and freeze of contracted raises to save jobs earlier in the spring. That's a huge concession, as the Brentwood Public School District teacher's union is the largest on Long Island. In any case, it didn't save them from significant layoffs. Teachers who were told back in the spring they would keep their jobs have been laid off these last weeks of summer, after declining jobs in other districts. In addition to that, our class sizes were approaching 40 students per class at the high school when I graduated in 1997 - at this point the high school is highly dependent on portable classrooms, and class sizes will be soaring over that scary 40-student mark.
California and New York have both been in the news for their massive teacher layoffs, and other states aren't faring much better.
We know that fewer teachers and larger class sizes create problems for student performance. Larger class sizes have been demonstrated to contribute to teacher burnout.
Fewer teachers with larger classes, unable to spend as much time per child dealing with differences in ability and learning style, spell disaster for an educational system that has already been highly criticized for years. And the issue of when these students make it into higher education now has a bigger "if" factor than ever before, as more higher ed institutions are now having their funding tied to student outcomes. The likely result? Already disadvantaged students will become even more so, and the colleges and universities that previously allowed them to do remedial coursework after admission will be less willing to bridge the education gap that is increasing between K-12 and college level work.
At what point will policymakers, local and state Boards of Education, and other stakeholders realize that our system can only sustain so many educational cuts before the decrease in quality of education becomes irreversible? And at what point will we in higher ed run be so immersed in remediation that we fall short of the ability to offer students the opportunity for a true higher education?
I don't have any easy answers, but the educational landscape of the U.S. is getting pretty scary.