That’s right! I’m gonna lay the blame for this latest bout of depression squarely at your feet. You had to bring up District 304 class size, didn’t you! So in order to perform my typical due diligence, I retrieved my dusty Evanston Township High School year book, which holds that hidden St. Nick’s Class of ‘72 graduation photograph.
It’s been 40 years! But what amazes even more than the relentless passage of time is, though I often forget who I called after dialing the phone, I remember so much of St. Nick’s as if it were yesterday.
What that picture did was confirm my recollection that our classes contained 25 kids. I guess I didn’t need to brave the basement and depression after all.
Not only that, but when the classroom hit 90 degrees, as it often did, the nuns would fire up one of those huge metal-cased fans that sat on a 5-foot stand. They virtually had to shout over it to teach. If we were really lucky, they’d let the boys take off our clip-on ties.
Meanwhile, the girls wearing those long, heavy, plaid dresses had no such option.
Though some of the nuns were certifiably nuts, you knew you didn’t mess with Sister Camilla, because that yardstick would come down on you just like the wrath of God she so frequently described. And if a nun did resort to corporal punishment, you were likely to get more at home because your parents always backed the school.
Trust me, those memories aren’t all fond, and I’m certainly not calling for a return to those draconian days. What I am saying is, despite what might be considered less-than-optimal conditions, my Catholic school classmates dominated those ETHS honors classes.
I know that was an overly long preamble—even for me—but it’s important to cover your bases when faced with the fact that some Mill Creek parents told the District 304 School Board it’s important that kindergarten and first-grade class sizes stay small.
You see, I believe, within the bounds of reason, this is just another case where size doesn’t matter.
Citing her son’s 27-pupil Mill Creek kindergarten class, Melissa Swiercewski said, “Even the most wonderful teacher—even that teacher will not have (a chance to succeed with 27 students.) There are too many little minds to engage under those conditions.”
She added, as a former educator, 15 is the optimal class size and each subsequent student dilutes the educational process.
But the pachyderm-in-the-room problem is, in order for her contention to hold water, we have to ignore some other serious variables that clearly affect the educational process. And the proof that class size is inconsequential, which goes far beyond my anecdotal assertions, lies directly in that rubbery parochial-school cafeteria pudding.
St. Peter School, right here in Geneva, currently serves 27.5 children per classroom. But despite daunting disadvantages like that one, spending $2,000 less per student, no air conditioning, and far lower teacher pay, Catholic school students will outscore their public counterparts by 5 percent in math and science and 13 percent in reading.
Before you blurt, “they don’t have to accept every student,” that ain’t the reason they overcome those obstacles. It has nothing to do with a lack of unions or religious discipline, either. Catholic schools succeed because they set their expectations up front, the biggest of which is that their teachers are not there to raise your children.
Let’s get back to the anecdotes.
As you know, I’m completing my first year of travel soccer coaching, and a full two-thirds of that time consisted solely of dealing with disciplinary issues. Most of the kids are great, but the ones that have no limits at home can take a whole team down.
And not only do those parents refuse to support you, they go ballistic when you try to enforce the rules.
If you hold your ground, they will go to the club, they will confront you, and they will actively undermine your efforts with the other parents. So you end up spending 80 percent of your time on 20 percent of the kids.
Having personally faced this phenomenon, I’ve spoken with principals, teachers, education consultants, counselors and district administrators to get their take on it, and they all say it’s getting worse—much worse.
If a teacher has to spend half of her day dealing with students and parents who believe that behavior comes without consequences, then yes, the only means of mitigating that entitlement mindset is to drastically reduce class sizes.
But, if we do that, then what we’re really saying is we expect the school system to raise our children and, if that’s the case, then there’s a real cost that comes along with that expectation.
I may not be sure about much, but what I am certain of is, like gas prices, public-school class sizes are going to go up. And that’s fine with me, because I don’t want to have to faint at the sight of my property tax bill, and the answer to a good education doesn’t lie in 15 students per teacher. No! The solution is school administrators who are willing to suffer the slings and arrows that inevitably come when you take two steps back whenever a parents tries to thrust their responsibility on them.
We can no longer allow the least common denominator to dominate the public school process, or that’s exactly where we’re all headed.