This excellent AP piece by Libby Quaid about classroom overcrowding points out that though states are getting stimulus money for education it’s “not enough to cover state and local budget shortfalls.”

The stimulus boosted federal spending and helped restore cuts in state budgets, sources that together provide about 56 percent of school dollars. It did not make up for local tax revenues, which give schools the rest of their money.

Local revenues have been socked by the recession and may dip even lower because property assessments tend to lag behind a recession.

Makes you wonder why Education Secretary Duncan and company are spending so much money “reforming” education when the entire school system is going belly up. His rhetoric seems to align with Stanford’s Eric Hanushek:

“All the research suggests the number of kids is much less important than who is teaching the class… In the face of budget problems, allowing class size to move a little bit makes all the sense in the world.”

“In fact, to the extent you put ineffective teachers into classrooms, you’re much better off by keeping larger classes with effective teachers,” he said.

Mr. Hanushek belongs to the Hoover Institution, a conservative think tank named ironically for the man who brought us the Great Depression. Anyway, his thing is the ineffectiveness of class size reduction and that better teaching will lead us down the road to educational happiness even though, as he also maintains, neither salary, education, nor experience necessarily a good teacher make. Good teaching, he tells us, equals “value-added,” the teacher’s contribution to the student’s learning, and that’s what Obama/Duncan want to measure by linking  teachers to student test results. Trouble is, as Edweek’s Douglas N. Harris states,

that student outcomes are affected by parents and communities as well as schools. It is common sense that educators should be held responsible for what they can control—no more, no less. Therefore, any valid measure of teacher performance has to isolate the role of the teacher from these other factors.

And if you really want a headache try to understand this, also in Edweek, by Debra Diadero. Basically, it’s about a Princeton Professor who has found a value-added link between 5th grade teachers and the performance of their students in the 2nd and 3rd grade. In other words (and you can bring in the Escher graphic organizer here) according to the value-added model, 5th grade teachers can be said to have an impact on their students’ previous learning:

To explain the findings, he (Jesse Rothstein) suggested that students may well not have been randomly assigned to classrooms. Instead, they may have been sorted into classes based in some way on their prior achievement. A principal might, for example, assign students with behavior problems to teachers known to have a way with problem students or reward more senior teachers with high achievers.

“Anybody who’s had a kid in elementary school has tried to exert some influence over that kind of nonrandom assignment,” said Mr. Rothstein. Yet, he added, value-added calculations are based on the assumption that students’ classroom assignments are random, overlooking the day-to-day reality of what happens in schools.

The day-to-day reality of what is happening in our schools? What a concept. Maybe our president should check it out!

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