Budget Cuts, Part 2

There are so many contradictory ideas in how we run our schools. The idea that they can make kindergarten a half day must be based on a belief that kindergarten is like it was 40 years ago: just play and art and getting used to the school environment. That’s not a bad idea to have kindergarten be that way but somewhere since I was a kid the powers that be changed the rules. Today, kindergarten is like first grade used to be. The standards include significant achievements in math and reading/writing. Kindergarten today is a critical foundation for the rest of elementary school. But there’s no way those skill get taught in half a day, certainly not unless the kindergarten schedule gets very, very academic. So suddenly, even kids who have a chance to be prepared for first grade aren’t.

I was talking to a friend this morning. He’s very much the ‘pillar of the community’ type, yet he brought up the idea that all this may well drive significantly more people to homeschool. Private school is tough because, as you mention, this all comes at a time when private financial resources are tight too. What’s particularly sad about that is the area where the school system is failing children most systematically is in low SES areas. It seems to me that families in such situations have the least options. In many cases neither homeschooling or private school are options. They’re stuck with what public school provide.

I believe government generally does a pretty mediocre job at what it does. I’m ok with that. It’s usually better than the alternatives and it’s the nature of big, political organizations. But this situation, if it plays out as threatened, seems like one that’ll be much worse than mediocre. That’s bad enough on the face of it but when I consider that this is kids lives we’re discussing, like you, it makes me very angry and sad.

Budget Cuts?

Our daughter is lucky enough to go to a relatively well-funded school with solid PTA support. She’s had 19-21 kids in both her kindergarten and first grade classes. The district is talking about increasing class size from 23 to 30. If they really do put that many children into kindergarten or even first grade, the math is devastating. 

Right now, for stations, the children are separated into four groups of five children. They do two station rotations a day, 20-25 minutes a station. There’s one adult (teacher, TA plus parent) in each of three stations plus a free play station. One full set of stations takes roughly 80 minutes.

Thirty children is five groups of six kids. So there’s 50% more kids in each group and one more station. One more station is an extra 20-25 minutes twice a day (40-50 minutes total) plus the adult’s attention is spread over 50% more students. It’s hard to see where the extra 80 minutes will come from so we’ll need to either double the number of kids in each group (four sets of eight kids) or do only one set of stations per day or drop something else from the day’s schedule. Whichever, the students lose a lot. 

In addition to the grim math above, there is the challenge of children of different abilities and/or starting points. In the groups I run, there’s typically one child who’s breezing through the activity, several who are struggling with the task and/or perhaps one or two who are tuned out or disruptive. Just getting through the activity with everybody getting the core lesson is no picnic with five students. It is hard to imagine reaching the same progress levels with eight or even six children.

The studies we’ve read say that class size is one of the major determinants of learning success. I can see why. And my guess is that the situation I describe above is relatively luxurious compared to districts with more challenging financial situations. Those districts may already start with these larger class sizes before the budget cuts. It’s hard to imagine where major cuts would leave them…

These same threats we made prior to this school year and the district somehow found a way to avoid substantial cuts in Amelia’s education. I hope they find a way again, because what’s being discussed would be a substantial blow to the educational output of these schools.