Charleston schools don’t play class size politics
You have to figure parents in Mount Pleasant are a little worried about the state schools superintendent’s latest scheme.
Mick Zais wants the South Carolina Board of Education to lift the cap on class sizes in most grades. He says it will give school districts, which aren’t exactly rocking with cash flow, some much needed flexibility.
That Zais — always thinking about public education. Well, when he’s not trying to figure out some new way to undermine it with another boost for “school choice.”
But he’s right, lifting the cap would give districts some flexibility. Instead of building a whole new elementary school in Mount Pleasant, the Charleston County School District could just stack 45 or 50 kids in every classroom. Problem solved.
At least until parents decide that’s not the kind of limited government they like.
But don’t worry, Mt. P — that’s not going to happen.
The Charleston County School Board won’t let it.
Fact is, the school board sets its district’s class sizes, and most of Charleston’s are well below the state limit.
And even if the district had the option of raising class sizes, they probably wouldn’t take it.
“I would not be in favor of that,” says board member Chris Fraser, “and I don’t think a majority of the board would, either.”
School Board Chairwoman Cindy Bohn Coats is certainly onboard with local control, but she says there has to be parameters for fairness and consistency.
Basically, she says the state can’t just arbitrarily change class sizes without a lot of study.
Well, they shouldn’t anyway.
“Until I know exactly how this could affect funding, effective staffing and performance expectations for school-based staff, student performance and curriculum, I cannot support this,” Coats says. “Seriously, does any sane person think you can convey the same lesson plan ... to a class of 20 students as you can to a class of 35 students within the same one-hour class?”
Businesses take that into account when they set up training classes, she notes. And don’t people want government to run more like business?
Uh, not when it cost them a dollar.
Quantity or quality?
It looks like this whole flexibility thing is a nice way for the state to tell the districts they aren’t getting any more money — but hey, buck up. Now you won’t have to hire any extra teachers.
Which is unfortunate, since the job here is supposed to be getting South Carolina out of the national education ranking cellar.
Board member Michael Miller says the focus shouldn’t be on class size, it should be on effective teaching.
“If a bad coach has four kids or 40, he’s still going to be a bad coach,” Miller says.
In other words, Miller says, if class size is the be-all, end-all, why aren’t the schools in Mount Pleasant — where there are more students — doing worse than schools in less populated areas?
Obviously, they aren’t.
Miller says the state should keep the focus on quality, not size.
“I hope the superintendent is looking at that as well,” he says.
Zais actually does seem interested in doing that, but the state and teachers disagree on how to most fairly measure quality and effectiveness. So it’s a bit of a mess.
Besides, that sounds like something that would cost a little bit of money.
And right now, the state superintendent is most interested in cutting classes, and corners.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org