Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Slighting Out Kids

An article in the Republic caught my attention the other day when Pat Kossan wrote, “Arizona classrooms are the third-most crowded in the nation, and they're about to get squeezed further.”

In the Republic article, it said that state administrators would have to come up with some kind of plan. Because of the economy, states slashing budgets, and stimulus money being siphoned off, your kid may be in a larger classroom.

But there is a debate among educators and academics on whether or not the size of the class is proportionate to the level of education your child receives.

Arizona has the dubious distinction of having a higher average of teacher-to-student ratios.

“Arizona had 20.2 students for each teacher in 2006-07, according to the most recent data available from the U.S. Department of Education. Only Utah at 22.1 and California at 20.9 had more. The national average was 15.5 students.”

It doesn’t matter what school system you’re in, or whether you choose to send your kid to a private or public institution. Class size does matter.

I am wrapping up my first year working with a sixth grade class here in the Valley, and although I am not a teacher, (and not receiving a degree in education) I have noticed that the less kids there are in the classroom, the more engaged they become.

About once a week I teach public speaking to these kids who, for the most part, are from another part of the world or their parents do not speak English. They are from Africa, Eastern Europe, Latin America and Russia. So to get these kids all on the same speaking page is tough.

I can’t imagine the challenge that I, let alone every teacher, face if the class size swells next year. Many times I will have to work one-on-one with these kids and when you’re focused one particular child there is a better chance for that child to learn. In my experience it also helps me to learn what the child is capable of so I can tailor my visits and help those who need a bit more time learning.

I know that budgets are being drastically cut and that people are looking for money in almost every nook and cranny of state and federal coffers. But I also know that just because you throw money at a problem, it doesn’t guarantee that the problem will be amended or quickly fixed. We have seen how government is all too ready to throw money at programs that, frankly, are just wasteful spending.

But not education.

I agree with Kossan’s assessment, “Arizona schools must find a balance among the number of teachers hired, the number of students each teacher will have, and how much each teacher will be paid.”

Just because Arizona is suffering in budget woes doesn’t mean our kids should.

Unfortunately, I don’t see our state political heroes making the sacrifices or coming with better ideas to lower the teacher-to-student ratio next year.

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