Today, Tokofsky and five L.A.-area high school students discuss class size. Yesterday, they debated teacher motivation. Later in the week, they will focus on bogus grade-promotions and more.
Sounds good; now pay for it
By David Tokofsky
Class size matters. When it comes to class size, California is near the top of the 50 states. We in Los Angeles County not only have high class size but are among the poorest of California's 58 counties. Our diversity is tremendous; our city police stretched over vast terrain; our county physical and mental health systems strained. How can we reach our secondary students with classes numbering more than 40 and teachers who must serve 200 students a day?
Under Gov. Pete Wilson, California lowered class size ratios in the lowest grades, kindergarten, first, second and third, to 20 students to one teacher. Those 20-to-1 classrooms often have a teaching assistant, thereby making the rooms really 10 kids to one adult. In kindergarten, parents also volunteer more than for any other grade through grade 12. We have made a great investment in California to show that class size matters.
Is the investment yielding the results we need for all of California's kids? In Los Angeles, the lower grades have improved significantly, but are the results only attributable to class size, or did the managed curriculum, training and focus matter too? Why hasn't the kindergarten-to-third-grade improvement affected fourth grade significantly? If students are getting lower class size from kindergarten to third grade, shouldn't they be in some way ready for the content of fourth grade? Or is the fact that fourth grade holds 34 or more students to one teacher the reason for the fourth-grade drop. Remember that fourth grade is just when math, science and history kick off at high speeds?
And what about grades four through 12, shouldn't they share in the massive class-size funds? If you reduced kindergarten, first, second, and third to only 26 to 1, you could have, for no greater cost, class-size reduction all the way to sixth grade? Is reducing class size from kindergarten to third grade to 20-to-1 worth sacrificing fourth, fifth and sixth grades?
Everyone always says that class size matters the most. Our King/Drew researcher and the UCLA team started us off with a different challenge: Does the quality of the teacher matter more than the number of students in a class? And if you were to have a quality teacher, one who in fact knows the subject matter, the students and the students' community, would we be better off investing in the teacher or reducing class size?
I don't want to appear to jaded, but could the constant call for class-size reduction be overstated? If we answer the call for more teachers, more teachers will need to be hired. Then we are back to the quantity-over-quality issue we discussed earlier. Teachers unions may need more members to pay dues, but that could be balanced by higher-quality teachers being paid more than today for quality output.
Finally, I want to remind the students that class-size-reduction money essentially comes from the Assembly members and state senators in Sacramento. These legislators have chosen to let California schools fall behind nearly every other state in the Union. Is it time for local students, parents and school boards to solve the problems themselves, as we have begun to do with school bonds to reduce overcrowding in schools by building new schools? Do we need a county parcel tax or sales tax to reduce class size? Who will take the lead there? The school board? The mayor? The city council or the supervisors?
Private schools have class sizes of 12 or fewer to one. Gov. Schwarzenegger and Mayor Villaraigosa send their kids to these elite private schools at a cost of nearly $30,000 per year per kid. Who could blame them for investing that much in the most important part of a parent's life? Are we telling the rest of the families that their children are only worth one-quarter of the value of politicians' children when we give only $7,500 dollars per public school kid?
I am sure the students on this dust-up will remind us additionally that we spend a lot more on California prisoners than California students. We are never short on ballot initiatives to get tough on the very people who could not find success in their early years.
David Tokofsky is a former board member of the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Books not bombs
By Leslie Campos
I agree with a lot of what you're saying, Mr. Tokofsky. In classes with a lot of students, we don't get the attention that we deserve. It's too easy to go to class and just "chill." These overcrowded classes hinder students' opportunity to engage in real learning.
All anyone has to do is to take a walk in our shoes and experience school with densely populated classes and teachers who cannot handle a large number of energetic students.
It's not fair to teachers or students to learn like this!
Decreasing class sizes will directly result in a rise of student engagement and bring down the disappearance rate.
There are geniuses sitting in the back of our classes, but they don't get properly taught in classrooms with more than 30 other kids. So, what happens to our geniuses? Some might break out of their self-destructive cocoons, but most fall to the fate of low-paying jobs or the school-to-prison pipeline.
There shouldn't be a choice between quantity and quality. Both are necessities in school. Both quality teachers and the class size play a large role in the education of students.
As well as having smaller classes, teachers should receive better training in order to prepare them for their students' diverse learning capabilities. They also should learn how to move at a steady pace in order to keep all students on their toes academically, meaning the ones who don't understand the material and the ones who do. Teachers also should be trained to keep lessons interesting and not repeat the same style day after day after day.
It's easy to tell us to participate in school, but in our communities, it's not that simple. Often, schools do not have programs that increase student and parent participation. In fact, some school leaders keep students, parents, and community members out of the decision-making. Instead, the district and schools in our community must try their hardest to include parents, students and community members in the decision-making.
I agree, though, that the governor and mayor can't possibly know what it's like for students in public school to experience large class sizes, especially if their children attend $30,000 private schools. The fact that their children do not experience what LAUSD students go through impairs their ability to make decisions regarding public school students. I would advise that they experience what inner-city LAUSD classrooms, with 40-students-to-1-teacher ratios, are like on a daily basis. Political leaders should try to see what it's like to learn from teachers who can't relate to this generation of minority students.
If the mayor and the governor really want to understand what our schools and classrooms are like, they must respect and listen to the students they are making decisions for. Having conversations with us would give them a much better understanding of the difficulties facing the very people they are supposed to be concerned with. Maybe then they would be able to make heartfelt decisions for the youth in our communities.
I understand that money is not easy to come by, but our schools should be top priority. I don't have the answers for that, but the fact that we give so much of our national budget to our military and so little to our schools tells us that our priorities are more on aggression toward others than affection toward our youth. Let people live, and let our children learn! Students should not go another day with unqualified teachers, overcrowded classes and low-quality schools.
Leslie Campos is an 11th grader at Crenshaw High School, Los Angeles.