Arika Herron’s recent Winston-Salem Journal column this past Sunday entitled “Too big to learn? Schools seeking waivers for exceeding class-size limits” brought to mind the ongoing disconnect that legislative leaders in our state have with reality when it comes to curbing class sizes in public schools.
As reported last fall in a variety of media outlets, NC General Assembly leaders were pushing to limit class sizes in early grades (k-3) to a prescribed number. The problem with the original bills associated with such an endeavor was that there would be no additional funding to really alleviate the need for extra classrooms and teachers because fewer students per classroom would mean more required classes and more space.
Well… actually, there was a solution to that in the eyes of many a lawmaker – cut “non-core” classes, specifically physical education, art, music, and other specialties. If certain classes cannot be tested by state tests for “student achievement,” then they may not be as important.
At least to some.
And with Herron’s report came the stark realization that many in Raleigh still choose to ignore the reality in schools for what appears to be purposeful reasons. And when they do finally witness what happens in public schools, these lawmakers feign surprise.
For instance from Herron,
In a recent visit to Jefferson Elementary School, which has six classrooms with more than 24 students, Rep. Debra Conrad, R-Forsyth, said she was surprised to see such large classes.
“We allot based on a ratio,” she said. “We’re trying to find out what (school districts) have been doing with the money.”
School officials said the district doesn’t fill classrooms with just 18 students — as the state allots — because it uses some of its allotted teaching positions to hire for special classes like art, music and physical education. There is not a specific state allotment to hire those special teachers and because they don’t have a dedicated class assigned to them, they do not affect a school’s teacher-to-student ratio.
Jefferson Elementary is one of the highest rated schools in the district and has been for quite a while, and Debra Conrad has been a representative for Forsyth County for at least three terms.
Further on in Herron’s report it states,
The flexibility that currently allows districts to do that and fill classes above their allotted ratio is in jeopardy. A provision of the budget bill would hold schools to strict class sizes starting with the 201718 school year.
However, lawmakers are currently considering a bill that would give back the flexibility after school districts across the state said they would have to cut art, music and gym classes in order to comply. Some districts, like Forsyth County, have said they’re also already facing a teacher shortage and struggling to fill the elementary positions they have now — let alone dozens more. Many districts would need additional classroom spaces, too.
What they do not see must not exist. And what does not exist must not need money.
This is not just by accident. And it is not simple ignorance.
It’s intentional. And until they receive lots of feedback from lots of angry parents and citizens, they will not reverse course. That’s why it is incumbent to call lawmakers. That’s why our journalists must be fearless in reporting what is true.
Remember, this is the very same General Assembly that ramrodded vouchers (Opportunity Grants) down the throats of tax payers to allow people to send their children to private schools because of the thought that public schools were not doing their job.
The recent Duke Law School Children’s Law Center’s report called SCHOOL VOUCHERS IN NORTH CAROLINA : THE FIRST THREE YEARS (https://law.duke.edu/childedlaw/School_Vouchers_NC.pdf.) has some rather enlightening summations about the NC voucher program established by the same people who want the very class size restrictions in public schools, yet who also claim ignorance to what happens in overcrowded schools. One of the most damning conclusions states,
“The North Carolina voucher program is well designed to promote parental choice, especially for parents who prefer religious education for their children. It is poorly designed, however, to promote better academic outcomes for children and is unlikely to do so.”
While these lawmakers applaud the structure of the private schools for their small class size, unique approaches to teaching, and their well-rounded curriculum, they seem to admonish traditional public schools in their quest to have the same resources.
Ironic that over 93% of vouchers go to private religious schools that are overwhelmingly Christian in affiliation, and while traditional public schools are having to worry about cutting arts, music, dance, and physical education just to fit students within limited resources, voucher-enabled religious schools get to teach their students in reduced-sized classrooms verses like,
“Let them praise his name in the dance: let them sing praises unto him with the timbrel and harp.” – Psalm 149:3.
“Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress” – First Timothy 4:14-15.
“Thus I do not run aimlessly; I do not fight as if I were shadowboxing. No, I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified” – 1 Corinthians 9:26-27.
Those verses talk about music, dance, creative talents, and physical fitness. And those are being sacrificed by our General Assembly within traditional public schools under a ruse of fiscal responsibility when in actuality it is nothing but ignorance and neglect.
When so many of our lawmakers who tout the very “reforms” that have actually hurt traditional public schools profess such a love of Jesus Christ, then would it not make sense for them to invest in all schools?
And when lawmakers like the aforementioned Rep. Conrad support school choice and vouchers they are actually supporting using tax payer money to help fund schools that service far fewer students than traditional public schools.
Consider another observation from the SCHOOL VOUCHERS IN NORTH CAROLINA: THE FIRST THREE YEARS report.
“The participating schools range in size from very small to large. As the following chart shows, six of the participating schools enroll more than 1,000 students. The most typical size for a participating school is between 100 and 250 students. However, 33 schools (7%) have ten or fewer students, with another 42 (9%) enrolling 20 or fewer students. Together, that means that nearly a fifth of the schools accepting vouchers have total enrollments of 20 or fewer students” (p.8).
The “most typical size for a voucher accepting school is between 100 and 250 students?” That’s fairly eye-opening when you consider that many public high school teachers are teaching six out of eight slots in a block schedule without a cap on students per class. That means that many high school teachers in typical public schools are teaching as many students in their classes (150-200) as there are total in the “typical” school that participates in the voucher program here in North Carolina.
And yet lawmakers have measured the merit of teachers and graded our public schools without regard to class sizes in the past few years, but when they decide to alleviate the “class size” issue they create a “bait-and-switch” scenario that further weakens how public schools can service the majority of school aged-children.
It was a little encouraging to hear Rep. Craig Horn quoted last November in NC Policy Watch acknowledging that the NCGA’s original ideas to “curb” class sizes were not very clearly thought out.
How things play out is not always how you expect them to play out,” Horn told Policy Watch this week. “I mean, we obviously intended to make class changes. Did we fully understand all of the implications? Quite frankly, hell no” (http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2016/11/14/new-rules-lower-class-sizes-force-stark-choices-threatening-tas-specialty-education-positions/).
Ironic that Rep. Horn is a huge admirer of Winston Churchill. He often quotes him and makes reference to him on his website, craighorn.com.
Craig is often called “Representative Churchill” by his legislative colleagues owing to his close association with the Churchill Centre. Craig is president of the Churchill Society of North Carolina and serves on the Board of Governors of the International Churchill Society and the Churchill Centre.
So he may know of this quote that is falsely attributed to Winston Churchill.
It would be fantastic for this essay if that quote was actually Churchill’s. Yet, alas.
But Churchill did say this.
“The arts are essential to any complete national life. The State owes it to itself to sustain and encourage them….Ill fares the race which fails to salute the arts with the reverence and delight which are their due.”
That works well enough.
What would work even better is for the North Carolina General Assembly to take measures to cap all class sizes and keep the arts and physical education classes alive and vibrant.
It’s money well spent. Rather, it’s money well invested.