Class Size Doesn't Matter

It ain't the size of the class, it's the class of the parents!

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.

Bob McQuillan June 07, 2012 at 02:40 AM
you might want to check out the following information posted on the Illinois Interactive report card site http://iirc.niu.edu/District.aspx?source=About_Educators&source2=Teacher_Characteristics&districtID=31045304026&level=D It records average class size for Geneva and the state of Illinois. Drill down a little further and you'll see that the pupil/teacher ratio is 18:1. If the average class size is 20-22, why do you think the pupil/teacher ratio is lower?
John R June 07, 2012 at 03:10 AM
Bob, That was a typo you did a good job settling Bruno down. He really lost it and I'm glad that Kate was able to speak with him in the hall. She was visible upset and a bit shaken. If you ripprd anyone it was Bruno and he deserved it. So thank you for doing the right thing at that time. I plan on watching the video once your guru has it up. Will the power point also be available? I do appreciate your courteous manner. It was a bit frustrating cause the volume was so high on the mic, the roaming guy with the mic was doing a time out signal, you felt you had to yell to be heard. As a result maybe you talked over me in error but it's all good. I do commend you for holding this forum. Your a heck of a community organizer. You've been at it for a while and you have the communities attention. See you at the next school board meeting, John
jwherley June 07, 2012 at 12:19 PM
As an outsider looking into your education situation, I am sorry to say Jeff but you are living in LALA land. The fact of the nation is that schools and the money are DRIVEN by the test scores..the higher the scores the more money they have the opportunity to acquire. FACT!!! Yes, you as a tax payer have a right to "say" whatever you think is best that you want to pay for...however..keep in mind that if you school districts suffer...eventually your neighborhood and the value of your home will too! Think about it...do you every hear someone say...ohhh the schools are soo bad I want to move there! Your comments about private schools are sooo off base and outdated...anyone who did that today would be fired in a second!! Coaching is a form of teaching, but your analogy suffers greatly...many kids WANT to be on the team and playing the game...many kids in the classroom today DO NOT WANT TO BE THERE and do not pay attention...leaving teachers to perform some sort of enterntainment act to get their attention, retain there knowledge and by some flicker of hope the kid will stay in school long enough to remember that info on the ACT, which has become more important than a diploma! I think the point that Melissa is trying to make, which you totally missed, is this...if we loose these kids at K...due to huge classes...they will be behind for the rest of their school career and that is what you as a tax payer should be worried about..not how bad society is today..can't change that!
Bob McQuillan June 07, 2012 at 02:59 PM
John R Thanks for correction. As to Bruno, I didn't know what he was going to present Monday night and don't necessarily agree with everything he said. I recognized that the interchange was quickly getting out of hand and didn't want the meeting to be overtaken and all the good information presented to be forgotten. If you listen to the video, you will hear me tell Kate Boche that her tone was not wrong, Again, I wanted the meeting to stay under control and you're right, I was harder on Bruno. I do agree that residents need to get involved at both the local & state level. For the Good of Illinois started as a grassroots organization and has grew over the last 5 years. The presentation, comments from the public, complete 2007 bond issue application and tax calculator are all up at the site as of late last night www.genevataxfacts.org. The video will be up shortly. My Hollywood agent is insisting that I sign a waiver first releasing him of all responsibility (just having a little fun with myself and my marathon presentation!).
Kent Frederick June 08, 2012 at 08:20 PM
My doctor will vehemently disagree with you. He thinks public schhols are much better, when it comes to dealing with children. We had a time when our son became very defiant, both at school and at home. He wound up seeing the social worker, and she did wonders in getting him to calm down. As it turns out, the bad behavior was a delayed reaction to the deaths of my parents and several other relatives. My parents died 9 months apart, and we lost a total of 5 relatives in just over 2 years. My parents' deaths really threw the daily routine of life off, between cleaning out residences, dealing with doctors, finances, and such. In fact, my mother's death led to a vacation being scrubbed, just hours after arriving at the resort. A lot of private schools don't have social workers, speech therapists (I worked with one for 2 years, because I had trouble with Rs and Ls), reading specialists and the like. Friends of ours send their kids to a parochial school, but they see the speech therapist at the public school. So, why bother with a private school, when a public school has so much to offer?


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