LOWER CLASS SIZES - and if you can't do it everywhere, do it at the poorest schools!
No, it really is that simple:
- Class size matters, but the positive impact is largest and most lasting when the class sizes are around 12:1 to 17:1 (see Perry Preschool, the Tennessee study, etc. This isn't controversial. Contrary studies produced by right-wing organizations have used CSR at 22:1 or so or failed to account for schools that already had smaller classes - bad science).
- Class size matters, and especially for high-needs children and children of color. The most positive impacts are seen for African American students (again, there is massive research supporting this).
- Smaller class size enables families to have a closer relations with teachers. Relationships are key, particularly in communities that have been ill-served by schools for generations.
- Smaller class sizes enable teachers to offer better differentiation in content and management.
- Smaller class sizes are popular with teachers. Want veterans at high-needs schools? Lower class sizes would be a popular perk! I'd take a guaranteed 16:1 class over my hard to staff money for sure.
- Private schools and privately-funded public schools use the money to lower class sizes. If our wealthiest students deserve it, why don't our neediest ones?
- This would end the horrible practice of combination classes - when kids leave 3rd grade and class sizes increase, school funding often dictates 3/4 or 4/5 splits. Combination classes (note: not multi-age/grade span classrooms, which are something different) are brutal.
This is what a robust "Weighted Student Formula" or STAR program would do: fund schools to maintain class sizes at 16:1 K-5 (at least). But this is expensive, prohibitively so system-wide, and only offering it to some set of high-needs schools would, I bet, set off some real howls.
Here's the problem with those howls, though:
- Life isn't fair;
- Equity is not equality. Giving BVHP schools exactly what you give to schools in the Sunset is equality. But those BVHP schools have greater needs, and if you truly want all students to have equal opportunity, those greater needs must be ameliorated.
This is a lot easier than school desegregation, which is so enormously unpopular among a certain subset of San Francisco that it seems like wasted energy to me. Besides, the smaller classes and improved test scores might drive parents to consider these schools. Given a big population shift, it's likely that some schools would start exiting the class size reduction program, at which point school communities would have to ask whether the reduction was so powerful that heavy advocacy to maintain it across the system (thereby eventually extending it to a larger group of schools). After all, ratios like 16:1 just make California more like other states.