Saturday, November 24, 2007

C-J: Targeting for success in JCPS

We long have advocated a massive infusion of resources -- a critical mass of help -- for the truly struggling schools in Jefferson County's public system, so the proposal from Superintendent Sheldon Berman to jump-start progress, eventually in more than 40 elementaries, with smaller class sizes, full-time school nurses and retooled lessons makes some sense to us.

Doing more for a smaller number of schools might give this kind of targeting a better chance to show results, but the system's new leader deserves the opportunity to put his best ideas to the test at the five pilot sites he chooses...

...As for reducing class size, this has intuitive appeal. Teachers who have fewer students to reach should be able to do more for each of them. And there is a body of research that suggests smaller classes do produce positive results in performance -- sometimes lasting results.

However, other research suggests real, durable results require classes of, say, 15 or fewer students. And the program Dr. Berman has in mind wouldn't finance classes that small.

The EPE Research Center notes, "In recent years, reducing class size has gained increasing prominence as a school-improvement strategy. Some 40 states now have class-size reduction initiatives in place. … Teacher unions routinely tout class-size reduction as an alternative to private school vouchers."

However, smaller class size could complicate the task of finding enough truly qualified teachers. It also could create serious space dilemmas at some schools...

...Reduced class size enjoys a better reputation today, as an improvement strategy, than it did in 1988 when a landmark U.S. Department of Education report said any major attempt to apply it in the public schools would be very expensive and probably "a waste of money." But the best results require truly small classes and teachers who know how to use them.

This editorial from the Courier-Journal.

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