dlaycock at MAIL.LAW.UTEXAS.EDU
Fri Aug 15 17:50:16 PDT 1997
I am the Board President of a highly successful private elementary
school that takes children of all ability levels, is 30% minority, and tries
to reach down to all economic levels, although we have not been able to
serve the really poor. I do mean literally all ability levels; we once took
a child who had scored at the 2d percentile on his achievement tests; a year
later he was up to the 49th percentile.
The key is individualization, and class size makes that possible. I
feel reinforced by the study showing that 15 in a class is the magic number,
because we have long promised teachers an aide if their class size exceeds
15. Even with an aide, we cap at 18.
Small classes help, and may even be necessary, but they are not
sufficient. My older son has graduated from the school I help run and is
now attending an "exclusive private school" where the average class size is
14 -- and they don't do anything to take advantage of that class size!
Their attitude is sink or swim; kids that need help don't get it. I don't
know what we're paying for, but that's another issue.
I am a product of public schools; my wife is a product of Catholic
schools. Our two boys have never attended either. Why not? Because they
were born in September, and neither the public nor the Catholic school
bureaucracies would let them start kindergarten just before their 5th
birthday. So we started them somewhere else, liked what we found, and
momentum has carried them forward. We have been very involved in the
elementary school, and we can clearly make a difference there. We have not
been involved in the older son's high school, which does not seem much
interested in what we think and where we have no sense of being able to make
a difference. I think a lot of involved parents have a similar feeling
about public schools -- that even if they got involved, they would have no
power to make a difference there. I assume that sometimes that is true and
sometimes it is not, but I have no idea what the proportions are.
One other factoid: my wife's Catholic elementary school had classes
of 50, and she turned out to be Vice President of a major research
university. I don't know how the bottom of the class fared; her memory is
that most kids were learning, but surely some must have fallen through the
cracks. Fifty kids in a class today is almost unimaginable, and part of the
difference must be different attitudes towards authority. When the nuns
exercised iron discipline and kids submitted to that, order was maintained
and small class size was less critical. But my sense is that even well
behaved kids won't submit to that sort of discipline anymore.
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