While most of America has been fixated on the health care debate, I’m far more concerned about what is happening to education. Fortunately, my school district escaped a big layoff scare last year thanks to the federal bailout.
That has not been true for less fortunate school districts. Most of the damage to date seems to be slowly-increasing class sizes. At my son’s elementary school, there are now two more kids per class, bringing the total to about 24.
But in some Los Angeles Unified classrooms, up to 57 kids are crammed together, reports the Los Angeles Times. An accompanying photo shows two girls forced to sit on file cabinets, while the story describes kids sitting on the floor of one classroom.
It’s not surprising class sizes are growing. Of the 273,000 jobs lost last month, 29,000 of them were teachers, writes Paul Krugman for The New York Times.
Ironically, the United States does very well compared to other nations when it comes to class size, according to NationMaster.com. With an average of 18.3 students per classroom, that’s far better than Japan’s 35.5 and Hong Kong’s 31.9. Kids from both of those places on average do better in math and science than their American counterparts, according to this measure.
So large class sizes seem to be a sporadic local phenomenon for now, but that might change. Stories in hard-hit states warn that school districts are at least considering an increase in class size.
But that’s not the only problem; just check out recent headlines:
- Teachers Salaries Frozen – Sebring, Florida
- School Districts to Feel Pain of State Budget Cuts – Lansing, Michigan
- Des Moines Schools Will Face $15 Million Budget Cut – Des Moines Iowa
- AL Governor Orders New School Budget Cuts – Huntsville, Alabama
Now if the United States was tops internationally in education, it would be easy to understand a little budget cutting. But that’s not the case. Consider that the United States ranks about 29th in the world in science and 35th in math, according to this measure. Azerbaijan, New Zealand and Liechtenstein are all beating our kids in math.
While I’ve always maintained that recent educational gains have been minimal, especially since No Child Left Behind forgot to include highs schools, our educational system is likely to start backsliding as budget cuts catch up with teachers in the classroom.
As it is, I feel it imperative to provide my kids with additional education at home, mostly in the form of tutoring. I should explain that I do not push my kids. I just add about 10 minutes of additional math and writing each day when they’re receptive. It may seem small, but I suspect the advantage will accumulate much like daily compounded interest rates.
And while I’m less worried about the financially comfortable, I wonder what’s going on in the homes of the less fortunate.