Thursday, January 28, 2010
Battles: Class Size II
When Peter and I uncovered the apples-to-fuzzy-little-squirrels error in a report presented to the CMS Board of Education by consultant Educational Resource Strategies (see previous post), we wrote an editorial for the Charlotte Observer (click here). A week later, the Observer reported on reactions from CMS and ERS. Sadly, it was just as we predicted.
CMS consultant admits goof, but says point is right
At issue: Best way to teach if budget must shrink
By Ann Doss Helms
Posted: Friday, Jan. 29, 2010
Two parent activists were right when they pointed out a research flaw in a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools consultant's report, that consultant told the school board this week.
But there's still room to argue over the significance.
The report is designed to guide CMS leaders in making tough budget choices while preserving academic quality.
Jonathan Travers, director of the nonprofit Education Resource Strategies, says that if officials have to slice the budget, they'd do better to cut some teachers, make classes slightly larger and invest in making the remaining teachers more effective.
In a Jan. 12 presentation to the school board, he cited research to support that premise.
In a Jan. 20 opinion piece published in the Observer, Pamela Grundy and Peter Wong called one of his research citations "worthless - or worse." Grundy and Wong, who are married and have a son at Shamrock Gardens Elementary, said a study cited as evidence that classroom coaching brought student gains never looked at student achievement.
Instead, it measured what teachers learned from academic coaches.
"These are our children. We fail to understand why their futures should be shaped by studies that ignore fundamental principles of responsible research," the pair wrote.
They say small classes should be preserved, especially in the early grades at high-poverty schools such as Shamrock.
In a follow-up session with the school board this week, Travers acknowledged the research should not have been used to make the case for student gains. But he told the board there's plenty of research to show effective teaching makes more difference to students than small changes in class size.
Superintendent Peter Gorman agreed. "The research has been clear for years: To have class size outweigh teacher effectiveness, the change has to be huge."
CMS is working with researchers and consultants, including ERS, to figure out how to measure and boost teacher effectiveness. Thursday night, Travers couldn't point to research showing that specific efforts, such as teacher training or coaching, lead to student gains.
"I mean, it's tough," he said. "There's not a lot of research that speaks to CMS's situation right now."
Nonetheless, he said, he's "pretty comfortable" recommending that CMS cut up to 200 teacher jobs to save up to $10 million, instead spending that money to provide expert support and other aids to teacher effectiveness.
Grundy said this week that she doesn't believe the research clearly indicates shifting money from small classes to teacher support would help kids. She said at Shamrock, where students have made gains on state exams, good teachers are staying longer.
CMS spokeswoman Kathleen Johansen said the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation pays ERS for its consulting services to CMS; the amount was not available Thursday.