September 2015 Editorial Winner

On school class sizes

Ed J. Lebeau III, Drumright Gusher

There was big news in Tulsa last week as parents at Elliot Elementary School were able to use the internet to raise enough money to pay the salary of a teacher who was to be moved to another school. It seems there were only 55 students in that grade level, not enough to warrant three teachers.
This comes at a time when we struggle to understand the problems associated with our failing school systems. To say that they are not failing is to be in denial. They are failing.
The problem seems to be that no one knows exactly why, and the proposed remedies don’t seem to be working very well, either. Teachers and teacher pay are high on the list of areas of contention.
One of the precepts of modern education is that class size matters a lot in grade school.
This news report indicates that Tulsa Public Schools was willing to have 28 children in one class. Apparently the parents were not quite so willing.
The timing of this news story closely followed my 45th High School reunion which was preceded by much reminiscing on Facebook.
In particular, comments were made about our elementary school educations, and in particular, who was who in class pictures, some of which were posted online.
While I attended Strake Jesuit College Preparatory in Houston, I attended our parish parochial school for several years prior to that.
At the time, about half the teachers were nuns.
They were everything you had ever heard about nuns, and maybe more.
What was striking to me was the class sizes based on those class pictures. The average class size appears to be in the realm of 35. And
I thought I received a pretty good grade school education. I also minded my P’s and Q’s because if I didn’t, punishment would follow. Rulers hurt when expertly wielded.
This leads to yet another discussion about our failing schools. If we misbehaved at school, we could be expelled. It didn’t happen very often, but it did happen. Because it was a private school, there were no particularly adverse consequences for the school short of a loss of l/35th of the funding for that particular class.
School overhead was low. We had a principal and a secretary and maybe one assistant, and one or two custodians, and that was it for perhaps as many as 700 students. There were up to 3 classes per grade K-8. We also didn’t have air conditioning.
This leads me to suspect that the problems with modern education have more to do with attitudes and goals.
If one takes education for granted as something the “state” owes to students, then there will be issues if the child is expelled. If the principal goal of “education" is to teach children to be tolerant and patriotic citizens first and the basics second, then we have a problem.
School should not be about the school or the state. It should be about teaching students the fundamentals. Say what you will about the nuns, but their focus was teaching us the basics, which included our faith. They did a marvelous job in my case. Judging by my classmates I saw earlier this month, I was not the exception.
If we create an environment where teachers can reasonably teach 35 students per class instead of 24, we will be on the road to solving our education problems.

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