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White House Report Pinpoints the Impact of Teacher Layoffs and Class Size

Education

A recent report by the White House highlights severe cuts to public education as we begin the 2012-2013 school year, and we near the final stretch of a Presidential Campaign that introduces two drastically different versions of a federal budget, which with an impact on our schools.

According to the report, since the end of the recession in June 2009, 300,000 educators have lost their jobs — 7,000 in the last month alone. The White House report released Saturday, Investing in Our Future: Returning Teachers to the Classroom, focuses strongly on what the loss of teacher jobs will mean: larger class sizes and the difficult choices that school districts will need to make. The report also highlights how the national student-teacher ratio increased by 4.6 percent from 2008 to 2010, rolling back all the gains made since 2000. Further layoffs in 2011 and 2012 mean that the student-teacher ratio will continue to increase as in the 2012-13 academic calendar.

The President’s budget plan would prevent teacher layoffs by providing $25 billion to protect teacher and other education jobs.

Earlier this month, Mitt Romney released his Plan for a Stronger Middle Class. One specific part of his plan is to “immediately reduce non-security discretionary spending by five percent”. For the Department of Education, based on its FY 12 discretionary appropriation of $68.1 billion, a 5 percent cut would mean $3.4 billion. If that wasn’t enough, the budget passed by Republicans in Congress would cut non-defense discretionary spending by almost 20 percent. If we administer the cuts evenly, this budget would imply $2.7 billion in cuts to basic Title I education grants. Nearly 38,000 teachers and aides could lose their jobs as a result of cuts to Title I spending alone.

While the Obama Administration’s messaging on class size has not always been strong, this White House report serves as an important change in tune and it’s the first comprehensive look on the impact of teacher layoffs on class size, which ultimately does impact student achievement.

In addition to the overwhelming evidence that class size matters in the early grades, there are at least fifteen studies that link smaller classes in the middle and upper grades to higher student achievement and lower rates of dropouts and disciplinary referrals. One comprehensive study, commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education, looked at the achievement levels of students in 2,561 schools across the nation as measured by their performance on standardized exams. The data included at least 50 schools in each state, including large and small, urban and rural, affluent and poor areas. After controlling for student background, the only objective factor that was found to be correlated with higher student success was class size.

Larger class sizes means more learning needs are being unnoticed or unmet. Thus, the link between lower academic achievement to teacher layoffs and class size should be a lot clearer by now. Mitt Romney doesn’t think so as he recently told a group of Philadelphia teachers that class size doesn’t matter. Secretary Arne Duncan feels the same way. However, the collective research– and now this White House report– prove otherwise. Unlike Governor Romney and Secretary Duncan, I have experienced my fair share of days as a teacher with large class size, and I know what it’s like to address a room full of learning needs – the more you find within the classroom the much more challenging it is. Trust me gentlemen, it matters.