Muddled minds, crowded classrooms

State Sen. Dan Patrick’s thinking on a number of issues, including the importance of small class sizes, is (to put it politely) muddled. Consider his interview with KTRKTV (Channel 13, Houston), which aired yesterday in a news story about a proposal, which he supports, to remove the 22student per class limit in kindergarten through fourth grade.

“I would argue education is not working perfectly – our dropout rate is pretty high,” he said. “It doesn’t mean the money is the issue. It may be the quality of teaching. It may be the programs we are offering.”

If Patrick thinks the dropout rate is high now – and it is, thanks to more handwringing than intervention from Austin – it will be even worse within a few years after superintendents cram seven or eight more kids into primary grade classrooms, which is what many will do if the 221 cap is lifted. People like Patrick (and there will be a lot of them casting votes under the Capitol dome this year) refuse to grasp the reality that young students in the early grades need a lot of individual attention from teachers to learn the basics, realize the importance of education and be prepared for the challenges of the higher grades. This is particularly true for disadvantaged students, many of whom soon will drop out if they don’t get that early, individual attention.

I don’t know what Patrick thinks he knows about the quality of teaching, but large classes in K4 will require many teachers to spend most of their time babysitting, rather than actually teaching.

Money is a crucial issue in public education – it pays for teachers, textbooks, labs, computers, school buses, etc, etc and it is preposterous for Patrick or anyone else to suggest otherwise. State support for the public schools is woefully inadequate, as well as inequitable, which is why some school superintendents now are alltoowilling to make shortsighted compromises on quality, including the 221 cap, which they will regret later. When parents start raising heck about crowded classrooms, they will blame principals and superintendents before they blame lawmakers.

As the TV story points out, districts already can apply for state waivers from 221 if the limit is unduly expensive.

Former Gov. Mark White, who was in office when 221 was first enacted in 1984, and teacher Frances Smith, president of Cy Fair TSTA, also are featured in the KTRK story, and both make strong arguments for keeping the limit.


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