Hello! This week we’ll be picking up right where we left off with with Module 4 of ED100. This module picks out many logistical factors that go into running a school system. And when you really think about it, there’s a lot of components that school administrators need to optimize in order to maximize student learning! This includes class sizes, school hours, time management, absenteeism, etc. For example, a controversial bill that would allow later start times for middle and high school was recently vetoed by Governor Brown ("NY Times"). Let’s take a deeper look at some of these elements.
We’ve discussed the importance of the critical period in a child’s early development, so it's not surprising that a Stanford study found preschool to be a factor that determines student success. Specifically, they found that there was a significant gap between rich and poor families in terms of child enrollment in preschool. A child beginning their education in a quality preschool offers a huge advantage in terms of not falling behind in future grades. Unfortunately, the U.S. compared to other countries is failing to enroll kids in early education. The most common reason why is because preschools remain limited to those who have money to pay for it.
Another issue that schools have to tackle is class size. Class sizes in CA are particularly large. Research suggests that K-3 grade classes should keep the student to teacher ratio below 18:1. However, smaller class sizes often cost more for schools. Experts argue that the investment in small class sizes is worth it as studies have proven an inverse relationship between class size and student success. Bill Gates offers an interesting solution to this problem: reduce class sizes selectively. It’s evident that some experienced teachers can handle larger class sizes. If school systems allowed these teachers to have bigger classes, they could save thousands of dollars, help students reach their full potential, and not overwhelm less experienced teachers.
It’s unreasonable to expect all students to learn at the same pace. It’s important for schools to challenge not only the average student, but the advanced student and the struggling student as well. Years ago the government experimented with a publicly funded tutoring system to keep the slow learners up to par. However, as more and more schools qualified for tutoring, the program was quickly overwhelmed with students. On top of this, money began being poured into tutoring businesses rather than the schools themselves. One possible solution that is being experimented with now involves technology usage. Computer programs provide teachers with support and can properly engage both sides of the student learning spectrum with ease. “Rocketship schools” in CA have recently began to try these programs and have been attracting attention nationwide.
Absenteeism is another issue that plagues a large number of schools. Districts particularly want to address this problem because they do not receive funding for students who miss school. School districts receive money based off of attendance: each missed day by a single student costs the district $75 regardless of cause. Besides this, how important is attending class to students themselves? A study found that only 17% of kids who were chronically absent from kindergarten and 1st grade could read at grade level after the 3rd grade. Additionally, one in five low income students will miss a significant amount of grade school. Possible solutions to the absentee problem include engaging families, fixing transportation to school, addressing health needs, and tracking the right data.
A list of other factors that schools need to consider include school hours, time management, summer school, and after school programs. Schools hours matter substantially, as reports have shown that as “snow days” increase, student scores go down. Schools days that include significant hours of “actual instruction” matter as well, since a substantial amount of time is lost to birthdays, school assemblies, testing, field trips, etc. As mentioned in a previous article, preparation and efficiency in running the classroom is crucial when it comes to time management. In essence, every hour of instructional teaching should be treated as valuable. The effects of summer vacation vary with socioeconomic status. Students from poor families experience “summer learning loss”, most likely due to the fact that summer schools cost money. Children from affluent families are more likely to spend their summers reading, taking summer school, and continuing their education in some form. Finally, after school programs have been experiencing a shortage of funding, leading to federal and state governments encouraging other public entities and community organizations to step up and take action.
Clearly, school administrators and teachers do not have it easy when it comes to determining the logistics of running a school. As discussed, there are a lot of moving parts that need to be considered and, unfortunately, many of the issues are large scale, institutional problems. These challenges may appear daunting and out of reach to the average person, but here at Project SCIFI we believe change can be instilled by local people at the community level. Becoming interested and active in the issues at hand is the first step! So be sure to check in next week for Module 5 which explores all the various types of schooling available for students.