Monday, October 5, 2009

Hot topic: Will class sizes increase even more in 2010-11?

An SF K Files reader asked me to start this thread:
Word on the street is that class sizes might increase even more next year. Anyone have details on this? By how much will they increase? I have heard kindergartens might have 25 students--or even 30. Also, I'm curious to know if parents think class size makes a big difference. I know many studies indicate that the quality of the teacher is more important than the number of kids. Thirty kids and a good teacher is a better scenario than 20 kids and a bad teacher. Anyways, please share your thoughts.


  1. Yes, teacher quality matters more than anything else imho. A good teacher with 30 is way way better than a bad teacher with 20. Of course, any teacher, good or bad, would tell you how much better it is to have fewer kids.

  2. Kate,

    Please edit your readers' questions to minimize the flagrant rumor-mongering. "Word on the street...Well, I heard..." Statements like this add fuel to the anxiety fire that is already burning bright in many of us. This blog is at its best when people share their experiences, not their rumors.
    Thank you.

  3. I was terrified of having my kid go to from a third grade class with 20 kids to a fourth grade class with 33 this year, but I have to say that, apropos the 10:11 am comment, my son is doing quite well in the larger class -- and I think it is because the teacher is an amazingly charismatic teacher. That having been said, I do think that a "pretty good" teacher with 20 is going to do better than a "pretty good" teacher with 33 -- and that that is particularly so in the lower grades where there are many unfocused kids. But I have to say I've been amazed at how my kid seems to be doing so well with such a large class -- not at all what I expected!

  4. I have this strong memory of my elementary classes being about 20 kids... yet when I dug out the photos to show my daughter, K through 5 all have 28-30 kids in them. At least on picture day. Granted we also had weekly PE, music & library... but maybe the small class size isn't really as huge a difference as we're all thinking it will be. I'm sure my school wasn't the only one.

  5. Anonymous: I don't think this is a rumor. My school's principal said this is what will happen and I heard Rachel Norton say this is what will likely happen at a recent panel of public school parents. Sadly, it's not a rumor. It's a reality and I think it's important that parents know about these things early-on so they can start to write letters and reach out to the board. It's better we know now than after the fact.

  6. My kindergarten class in a California suburb had 30 students--although we had a teacher's aid.

  7. Well, this seems like the obvious solution to the budget problem, and is therefore likely. So it will then be up to individual schools to raise funds if they want to keep class sizes smaller.

  8. I grew up in a school with 35 kids per teacher (no aides). Not saying that's ideal, but the lower class size is a recent development.

    There are some schools whose funding streams will require them to keep the lower class size, e.g., I think Paul Revere is one. They tend to be the schools whose population is overall materially poor, i.e., free-lunch-qualified in big numbers. Something to keep in mind if class size matters a lot to you.

  9. When we were growing up, schools and classes were more homogeneous. The disabled kids were not mainstreamed into the general education classes. There was no such thing as differentiated instruction, etc...

    Things are different now. Way back when, larger class size could work. I don't think it works very well anymore.

  10. Kate,
    Could not agree more with 10:15 - totally unnecessary.

  11. I teach Kindergarten. A couple of things to note:

    1. Kindergarten standards in California are far, far higher than they were when I went to Kindergarten. The standards realignment in 2000 more or less moved standards down a year (from 1 to K, and so on). This coincided with CSR. It's very difficult to imagine teaching these standards to a class of 30.

    2. Teacher quality matters, yes. However, studies that control for class size prior to CSR show that reduction makes a difference, particularly in low-income communities. (Some districts always had fairly small classes and others didn't. Not all studies control for that, and it skews the data.)

    3. QEIA, the funding source that mandates 20:1, isn't too widespread. I don't think many elementary schools in SFUSD have it. And few Title I schools without it will be able to afford class-size reduction.

    4. Such big classes will probably mean more combo classes, too.

  12. 30-35 kids? Typical California, not investing in the long-term. That has got to be very challenging for a teacher, especially when they are expected to handle differentiated instruction and kids with special learning and behavior needs all in the same classroom. The bright kids with lots of home support will be fine, as usual. The teacher will have no choice but to focus on the most challenging children to keep the class under control (any contrary chiming-in from teachers welcome but this seems kind of intuitive). The opportunities for the average learners, especially those who don't have much support at home, will be spread thinner and thinner. Heavier burden on admin too, to handle more kids. Likely to drive families with resources and average to above-average kids out of the public schools if they perceive their kids will get more support elsewhere. Tragic, really.

  13. Maybe we should tax families for every child they have in excess of two? Or even one? Why does the Octomom get the same benefits for 14 children that I get for two? I've never understood this.

  14. 10:50-

    I can understand your frustration, but on that line of thinking... Why would I pay taxes for state schools when my kids are in parochial and have never stepped foot in a public school? Your suggestion opens a messy can of worms.

  15. Regarding the previous two comments, I am thinking of Cohen's column in yesterday's New York Times. He was writing about health care, but I think the moral and practical argument could be extended to education as well.

    Europeans have no problem with this moral commitment. But Americans hear “pooled risk” and think, “Hey, somebody’s freeloading on my hard work.”

    A reader, John Dowd, sent me this comment: “In Europe generally the populace in the various countries feels enough sense of social connectedness to enforce a social contract that benefits all, albeit at a fairly high cost. In America it is not like that. There is endless worry that one’s neighbor may be getting more than his or her “fair” share.”

    I think we worry overly much about "fair share" to the detriment of the whole country (or state). Education and health care are worth paying for, for everyone. In the long run, we all benefit, whether it's the Octomom's kids or an undocumented kid or my kid or yours. Even if you send your own kids to private school, or you buy private insurance.

    Here's the link to the full column:

    or just google Roger Cohen New York Times October 5.

  16. The problem with San Francisco is that too many parents think they should only have to take care of their individual children. They don't see the benefit in helping all children. But if we don't start taking care of all kids and seeing our city/state/country as one big family, then we're going to become a third-world country. It's already slowly happening...

  17. Please stop pitting private school families against public school families. We all have the right to educate our children as we see fit. We wanted our children schooled in an environment that reinforced our religious values, so we choose a Catholic school. We pay our tuition and more than our fair share of taxes for public school (which we don't use).

  18. No need to be defensive. It's fine that you wanted a religious education for your child, and no one here is saying otherwise.

    That is a separate issue from supporting the idea of (hopefully more!) taxes to support the public schools, because they benefit ALL of us. Whether you "don't use" your "share" of the taxes you pay for your child should not be an issue on the table. It has been suggested here that in some European countries the sense of social solidarity is higher than here--people are willing to support higher tax rates so that health care and education and other basics are provided for all, without regard for whether they or their child directly benefits. Whereas here people are always measuring their taxes against some idea of whether they are getting their "fair share." I have even heard some private school parents muttering that they should get their taxes refunded because they feel they are paying double....I'm sure you have not ever said anything like that. But anyway, that is the topic being discussed, not whether or not you have a right to choose parochial school for your child.

  19. More taxes? No, I don't support more taxes. I support private school vouchers or, at a minimum, tax credits for private school tuition.

  20. I think we need to look at how the current money for public schools is administered and how little of it actually trickles down to the individual schools. I wouldn't support higher taxes until they took a good look at how the current funds are administered.

  21. I know quite well that I am being charged double and am fine with it because it was my CHOICE to do so. In actuality, I'm probably paying much more than double seeing as how I pay a lot more in taxes every year then the average family. It does lead me to question, however, the general mantra on these boards that people that are going private are taking money out of the schools. If you stay with the supposition that the privates are full of these "rich elitist white" families (wholly untrue by the way but I won't digress), aren't these the same families that pay most of the taxes in this state and country? According to the GAO the top 10% of earners pay over 74% of the taxes from 2007. In fact, 32% of the tax returns filed this year were zeroed out so paid nothing at all in income tax. Further, that number actually rises in California as far as State revenue goes (10% pays 84%). Now I will argue that the top 10% pay more because both they can and because they take greater advantage of the system in more esoteric ways like stability of the country, efficient markets and infrastructure. However, I'm not sure pointing at the wealthy and claiming that they are taking money away from the schools is the way to go if, largely, they are the ones paying for that school in addition to the private education.
    Regarding the class size issue, it very much matters. Class size in several privates in K is 18-19 children with TWO full time teachers and a roving teachers aid. This generates far more one on one time and obviously is helpful. A highly regarded public Spanish immersion school K in this city has 25 children and one teacher. Really, it's hard to compare the two.

  22. What is the class size for some of the private school Kindergartens?

  23. Marin Country Day is 13 children with two teachers in the classroom and a teachers aid.

  24. 3:47 your views are a good example of the more liberatarian views of Americans...."you're on your own" vs. "we're in this together" (YOYO vs. WITT for short).

    Any public policy analyst will tell you that private school vouchers or private school tax credits will destroy the public schools. It's been done in other sectors. We accept privatization in this country as normal (just look at the debate on the public option in health care, let alone a single payer system or god forbid, a national health system as they have in the UK). And we pay for that acceptance in our high-cost, unevenly delivered health and education systems.

    The point is, many people in other relatively wealthy countries do NOT accept these things as normal. They accept higher marginal tax rates. Which by the way, yes, does presume that the wealthy pay most of the taxes. In our country we have pushed the tax burden further down to the middle class in the last 30 years through tax cuts for the wealthy and other "reforms," but generally the tax systems in industrialized and democratic countries assume that the wealthy pay a disproportianate share (yet still have lot left over for private schools, big houses, and nice vacations). We in the U.S. are an anomoly among our more-or-less economic peers in the family of nations in being less progressive with our tax rates.

    3:59, again I don't argue about tax rates other than wishing they were more like Europe's in being steeper. To understand the argument about why choosing private detracts from the public system, you need to separate the question of school attendance from how much someone pays in taxes. That's not the question! Taxes should be a given whether or not one sends children to the's not in place of tuition, it's paying for a decent society as a whole.

    The argument for why private attedance detracts from public is two-fold. One is monetary--because of how we fund our schools in this state, each student represents income for that school thorugh the weighted student formula. Each student not in the district means less money for district schools. The more enrollment, the more money. No doubt there is a complicated thing whereby if you have to open a new school then it costs more, or something, but generally economy of scale means that we are losing big, big bucks with the large private school attendance in this city.

    The other argument is influence. The fact is that private school attendence trends wealthier and public school attendence trends poorer. We are missing stakeholders who could be raising their voices at the ballot box and in other kinds of advocacy. We are missing energy. Yes, there are private school parents who certainly vote the right way and some who are even involved in other ways as volunteers and advocates, but the energy is more with the parents who have a direct stake in the system and in making it better. Human nature, right?

    3:56, no doubt there are improvements to be made in administration and I have my share of complaints. That said, I do not believe that outrageous amounts of money are wasted. We are cut to the bone, and despite that, much good teaching happens in the SF public schools because of the heroic work of teachers, parents, and others. A little less cynicism and a little more support would be a wonderful gift for the children. And while you are at it, you can also attend BoE meetings and look for areas of the budget that need trimming.

  25. 3:59

    Regarding class sizes. Well sure, the wealthy private schools can do a lot. I for one wouldn't argue that class size reduction and teacher's aides don't make a difference. That's exactly why I argue for more support for the public schools! Saying that nah nah nah the private schools are better because we can afford better teaching ratios doesn't really help the majority of people in this city who can't afford private school (median income in SF is about $67,000/family of 4, do the math).

    Okay, yes, I would also argue that there are other, better ways to invest the big bucks if you have them--outcomes are quite excellent for most supported, not-poor kids in the public schools, and for most families public school can be the smarter deal if you can see past the generic label (or the fancy packaging on the private side). Not the same deal, and I too would love that teacher's aide, but when you consider the cost, I'll save the money for other stuff including more time with my family, a summer vacation, and a few enrichment classes.

    But even it were worth it: If it's really so much better to have 2 teachers and 18 kids, why aren't we paying for that for ALL our kids, especially the ones who really, really need the extra support? And why don't we think of them as OUR kids? They will be the backbone of the economy and society someday when we are old.

    Thus, back to the argument about social solidarity and how we're all in this boat together.

  26. This is an interesting, civil discussion. I'm grateful that Obama is leading by his example and sending his children to public school. Hopefully people will realize that we're all in this together and that if public school is good enough for the Obamas, it should be good enough for the rest of us too. Hopefully we'll see education taxes go up at least for the rich so that our schools can continue to improove.

  27. That lovely public school Sidwell Friends.

  28. Public school was not enough for the Obama's. Their first school in Chicago was a private school whose headmaster is now the headmaster at MCDS. Their current school is Sidwell which is one of the best private schools in DC.

  29. Snark (or sarcasm?) aside, 5:27, there was a discussion on this blog about the topic of the Obamas' school choice last year. Many people noted the security concerns they face, which are way more than anyone here can imagine; a few others were disappointed in the choice.

    But, whatever--I voted for him, and walked precincts for him in Nevada, but am under no illusions that the man leans left enough to be considered a European-style social democrat, which is what we've been talking about here. In many countries over there, he'd be considered a centrist. Even the Tories in Canada and England support their universal health care systems. It's only by the debased standards of our politics that Obama's considered a liberal savior (or demon) here. I appreciate a lot about him, but that doesn't mean I agree with everything he does, and I'll take the European systems of funding health and education over ours.

    Not sure from how you wrote your snark whether you are pro- or anti- more public funding for the public schools, but it's not like any of us should be blindly following Obama or any other leader. We can think for ourselves. So, what's your point, really?

  30. Celebrity politics (ugh, it's like cable news) doesn't really answer the question, and somehow actually deflects us away from what matters. The question is still out there, and it's a good one:

    why aren't we paying for [high quality schools with good teacher ratios, etc.] for ALL our kids, especially the ones who really, really need the extra support? And why don't we think of them as OUR kids? They will be the backbone of the economy and society someday when we are old..

    As soon as someone asked that most basic moral and practical question, someone started up with finger-pointing at the president's personal choices. Who cares. His and Michelle's choices are small potatoes compared to the pressing need to fund the schools. They can send the girls to boarding school in Switzerland or on the Moon for all I care if we can get more investment in education for the rest of the kids in America.

  31. 3:59 here. I agree with you. It just seems to escape the minds of a lot of people on the board that in fact the wealthier class is actually paying for the majority of the funds for these schools. Would these schools get more if those children went to school there? YES I agree. Of course, that would be from the funds pot that they are paying for in the first place. Perhaps, that class sees a disconnect generally in the funds paid to the results in the school. After all, your tax bill can get used in so many ways. Perhaps a better solution would be to have a separate "school" tax portion of your bill. Then you could see direct results and would perhaps lead to more enrollment on the public side. When you pay $20k for a private school, you know the money is going directly to your kids education.
    That being said, I also agree that the energy lost is significant. After all if these are the people that are so willing to volunteer/donate/participate in their children's school then the loss of these people represents a major loss to the public school community. It seems you can't have it both ways though. On the one hand you have posters that demonize the private school group while admitting that they would be great help if they were IN the public school.
    On class size, I certainly was not saying "nah nah nah" and wasn't attempting to help the median family. What is clear though is that 2 teachers for 18 kids (is it really 13 at MCDS?!) is better than having 24 kids with 1 teacher. If you would rather save money for a vacation then send your child to private school, that's your choice. I would surmise that many who attend private school can do both. And if you could, wouldn't you?

  32. this is a very interesting discussion. I don't believe I've ever heard of the idea of a separate education tax. That's a very interesting idea. I think I agree with the poster that a big reason it's not "our kids" is the rather vast disconnect between a tax and a result at a school. If they got rid of the property tax schedule and thus raised tax income, how much would actually hit the school? Or even worse, how much would hit the school that needs the revenue? 10 cents of every dollar? I suspect it's less than that even. If you could somehow earmark a tax dollar in a separate form while lowering the other taxes because they didn't have to pay for schools anymore, I would most certainly agree to paying more overall for that educational system tax.

  33. 9:20

    because of how school funding works, there really would be more absolutely more money for SF schools if more kids attended public schools here. it's called the weighted student formula. each student brings more money.

    agreed however that the loss of energy and sense of being a stakeholder when people go private is the bigger issue though.

    On class size, I certainly was not saying "nah nah nah" and wasn't attempting to help the median family.

    so what's your point? most people can't afford private school, and those who can don't need a lot of help. we can all dream of such resources as exist at mcds--a 13/2 ratio?--why not hire a governess if you have getty family money?--but it is so far removed from the reality of most people. so why go on about it? the best thing about this blog is the advice offered to regular parents who are facing the process.

    If you would rather save money for a vacation then send your child to private school, that's your choice. I would surmise that many who attend private school can do both. And if you could, wouldn't you?

    i love how every time someone mentions that a public school education is actually a pretty good deal, you get back this implication about how we're all throwing our children to the wolves to fund our trips to fiji.

    i know for myself that there are no trips to fiji. public school takes the pressure off that i see many of my friends feeling whose kids attend private school, right at the edge of their means. some of them are facing job loss and they are worried.

    would i buy a getty/mcds education if i could, with the 13:2 ratio and all that? i dunno that i would. there are other advantages of public school, the diversity of course, and the sense of being part of the larger community--for me, yes, but also educating my kids in that, instead of the precious specialness that is the royal jelly of private school. i've been in private school myself, way back when, as well as public, and in many ways i prefer public. in every conceivable scenario? no. but the sf schools are mostly really good. not all fancy like mcds, but really good.

    nothing in this world, including this debate, is as black and white as many like to make it out to be. but for the price, the lowered pressure on family life, and the community/diversity learning, it's certainly not a slam dunk for private even if i did have a trust fund and resources to buy it all. money can't buy everything.

  34. 9:46

    The reason our political leaders don't want to earmark the tax code is the exact reason that funding by ballot measure hasn't worked. Direct & populist democracy is in practice problematic. It is susceptible to well-funded corporate campaigns that do their messaging and branding very well (how many here honestly understand every ballot measure that comes before us?). It is also susceptible to mob rule. For example, I am certain that schools would do well in such a system. I am not certain that health care for poor people would. There is a desire to protect programs that are practically and morally important (including for public health purposes) but that would be the first on the chopping block.

    Thus, we have representative democracy and a general fund that is allocated by our elected representatives.

    Except, of course, for all the mandates we have created via ballot measure that have tied up the vast majority of general funds.

    Hasn't worked too well, if you hadn't noticed.

  35. Yep, lower class ratio in SOME private schools. Public schools, on the other hand, can guarantee fully credentialed teachers in every classroom. Public schools also offer...

    Wait, do we really have to dredge all of this up again? Will those of you who want to compare private schools and public schools PLEASE look at earlier threads?

  36. I disagree with the previous poster. If we could afford to send our kids to private school we would in a heartbeat. We can't, so we don't try to think about it. But honestly? I would do it if we could.

  37. I'm pretty sure a great many of us would but then when they don't or can't, they play every card they can. They sprinkle backhanded things like Royal Jelly of private schools (yeah, that's royal jelly over there at Synergy and Live Oak or even Friends) and decry folks like the Gettys who probably pay 200x more taxes then they do and are on more charitable boards and raise more money for schools and social programs then they can count. Throw in a couple of inflammatory things like "Governess" and there's your argument. The vacation comment was lifted directly from the quote of the person that said "I'll save the money for other stuff including more time with my family, a summer vacation, and a few enrichment classes", the only one throwing anything to the wolves is yourself with the classic sfk board response to someone that was having a civil discussion.
    I agree I don't think you ever could segregate the taxes to pay for school because of the damage that it would do to other general fund obligations. The chasm between higher taxes and better schools then can't be crossed. People, understandably, don't want to pay higher taxes if 90% of that money is doing something that they won't see benefits directly. For example, try telling the citizens that we want to raise your taxes to build prisons or pay guards and that just won't fly. Put out a school bond measure though, and it's got a shot at passing.

  38. Back to the original topic - class size.

    Our daughter is in 5th grade at a great school (Great Schools rating is 10). We love the school. We really felt like we hit the lottery because we got our first choice out of the 3 schools we listed. We didn't consider private schools at the time because I wanted to be a stay at home mom and we didn't think we could afford it.

    We still love the school, in theory, but we noticed a big change when our daughter's class went from 21 in 3rd grade to 32 in 4th grade. She's always done well in school, but she really wasn't happy in 4th. We spent a lot of time trying to figure out what changed last year, and for my girl it really was the class size. I think she felt she got a lot more attention at the earlier grades than she does now. (I also think there are issues with 4th and 5th grade boys and the attention our teachers need to give them, to the detriment our our girls, but I'll leave that for another web posting.)

    With her in 5th, we're looking at her middle school options and are really leaning to private school for class size reasons. I think a lot of parents notice the change from 3rd to 4th grade, and I wish we could get the funding to keep class sizes at 20 or 22 through 5th grade. I don't think it's fair that our kids start with small classes in Kindergarten, and then they force us to go to large class sizes in 4th grade. (We're really feeling the pain of this, because we bought a vacation home at Lake Tahoe assuming we wouldn't have to pay for private school until college, and now we're probably going to have the sell the house at a loss just so we can afford to pay for private 6th grade.)

  39. Golly, such hardship! Having to sell the house in Tahoe! Poor dears!

  40. The criticisms that run both directions can be overblown, but they reflect some truth--or at least people's perceptions and fears about what is true.

    I don't think any public school parent would seriously question the statement that the schools are underfunded, and of course we long for the staffing ratios that a relatively well-to-do community can provide for private school students. Of course public school parents worry about class sizes and missing textbooks and dropped programs. And of course those on the financial bubble, who might afford private school, wonder if they shouldn't stretch.

    And so the comments about "well if you choose to take a vacation" that are dripping with suggestion that you are selfish to choose time with your kid over private school, well they do land. And the hint of "nah nah nah we have it better than you" can be hurtful to the many of us, the majority who really can't stretch. It makes people angry and defensive, because dammit we want the best for our kids, and yeah, we also want the best for the many for whom private school is not ever on the horizon, not even mentioned. It certainly is a scandal that we don't provide these things for all our kids but are so willing to fund stupid wars around the world. Is is great that class sizes are increasing? Surely not. So okay, you are right then: private school can offer beautiful things. Sigh. But that doesn't mean private school is all paradise, either:

    I think any private school parent, being honest, could deny that that their schools are at least somewhat (and possibly very) exclusive--it's the nature of the what it means to be private. Some kids get in and some kids don't, and there are patterns to how that works. Objectively, private schools (not parochial necessarily) skew more wealthy.

    I attended both public and private as a child, as well as a well-regarded private college. I do think that private school kids can't help but take on board the notion that they are somehow "special." How could they not, when they have access to beautiful campuses and interesting activities and other kids don't. They're not stupid--they know the kids down the street at John Q. Public aren't getting those things. It has to seep in....why do they get these things and the other kids don't? It's not that they've earned it, right, or that they are more valuable kids? Royal jelly might be over the top, but it is an attitude that gets cultivated, even in the nicest people--I've seen it.

    And oddly it is actually made worse by some of the service projects that these schools put on in an effort to combat that feeling, because it feels like doing for others "less fortunate."

    Public school cultivates a more democratic's built into the mix that is there. All the kids get the same field trips, even if they are homeless or in public housing, or living in a nice house in West Portal. It's not that kids don't notice the differences, but there is a sense that in school at least, in the eyes of this public institution, they are deserving of the same education. There's something to that, and I appreciate that my kids are getting it. And it is something that no private school, by its nature, could ever really offer.

    I know for myself that I have considered both public and private for my kids. There are huge ups and downs to both, and no perfect answer. I think its good if honestly consider all of these issues, and not deny them out of defensiveness.

  41. To 10:23 am -- thank you for expressing the view that predominates in public school parent's circles in fourth and fifth grade -- class size getting too big and SF's public middle schools being just too big. On other threads, there has been a persistent, albeit in my view minority, view that the large class sizes and the large middle schools in SF are all hunky-dorry. Kids are bigger; they adjust; don't worry; your little sweet pea will do fine in that big ocean. But all that the parents that I am talking to are talking about is precisely what you are raising -- the class sizes get bigger and the schools get bigger. And it is at middle school that I hear lots of public school SF parents talking about moving out to the 'burbs or going private. I've been trying to push SFUSD to create more K through 8's or at least let more charter K through 8's in. With no luck. We've got only one K through 8 charter; and we've got an extremely small number of K through 8's in the public school system -- nearly all of which are way over-subscribed. I hope you will join with me in pushing for greater K through 8's in the system.

  42. "Golly, such hardship! Having to sell the house in Tahoe! Poor dears!"

    (Rolls eyes) Way to go. Keep on hiding behind that computer screen.

  43. But 3:11, it's not like any K-8s would have smaller class sizes overall, right? In fact, the ones I know about have much bigger class sizes than at least one 6-8, James Lick, which has a multi-year grant to purchase class size reduction to well under 30, and which also has fewer kids than almost all K-8s.

    I think there are arugments for and against both comprehensive middle schools and K-8s. But I think the actual classroom experience isn't much different between them. All of our big middle schools implement a core teaching schedule for the 6th and usually 7th graders, with two main teachers assigned to teach most of the classes, and the kids moving together as a class between the two teachers. In other words, they form a learning community that functions together.

    Now, it is true that the experience of lunch and extracurriculars and electives would be somewhat different, and different schools might meet the needs of different kids there.

    One thing to take into account is how the younger kids at a K-8 feel about the 6-8 kids. At some schools they separate them into different campuses, but not at every one. As a parent of a middle schooler, I can say that they are, um, and interesting bunch....(and guess what? you'll all get to have one yourself someday, lol)...I actually like them very much, but it can be a challenge. I liked our K-5 elementary where the kids got to be kids without the influence of the older kids seeping in (other than older siblings, but you can't control that).

    I guess my point is, I don't think K-8s are a panacea for the tribulations of young adolescence, which again, you will ALL be facing sooner than you think; each model, including K-8, has its benefits and downsides. I wouldn't be opposed to expanding them, but I don't think anyone should think they are a get-out-of-teenage-land free card.

  44. I couldn't disagree with the previous poster more. My 4th grader still keeps in touch with her then-8th grade "mentor" with whome she was paired in K. We've been impressed with most of the 6th-8th grade kids at our K-8 and have been happy to have them involved with both of our children.

    @3:11 I'd be interested in pushing for more K-8s in San Francisco. I think it would reduce some of the flight from the city, because most parents I know (myself included) are fine with a dozen or so elementary schools but won't consider anything beyond that (other than Lowell). Where do we start?

  45. 6:13, I'm glad you are happy at your K-8 but, really? you wouldn't even consider a 6-8? you wouldn't even look? Sounds like so many parents who wouldn't consider can't know what you are missing if you never look.

    I doubt it would be possible in terms of property and economy of scale to put every middle schooler into a K-8 anyway. But more to the point, it's good to at least *consider* wider options as your child enter new phases of development....even if the consideration only confirms your present course. Such a shame to miss out on opportunities that *might* work better. We know several kids who badgered their parents into letting them switch to a 6-8, and there's another girl who just switched in @ 7th grade. I hope you are not closed to that idea if one of your kids (siblings often have different needs) starts asking about it. There are lots of misery, need for a change, music program, arts teacher, etc.

    Same with high school, btw. For some departments/subject areas there are schools better than Lowell, without the intense pressure. It wouldn't hurt to attend an open house or two when the time comes. Better to make an informed judgment rather than on hearsay.

  46. Not sure how others feel but we toured four 6-8s and never seriously considered any of them. To each their own. And DH and I are both public school educated pre-college, but Piedmont for DH and Boston suburbs for me FWIW.

  47. Increasing class sizes definitely influences the style of teaching. I teach K, and if I had 30 kids in my room it would be physically impossible to have a "community circle" or any kind of whole group activity in a circle. There's not enough space in my room for a circle that big. Eight more students would mean moving in desks, and wouldn't leave any space for our playhouse area (which is a 5'x7' rug, not huge). Less available space means more teacher-directed instruction and more seat work. It means each child gets not just less attention from the teacher, but fewer opportunities to contribute to discussions, ask questions, and perform classroom jobs. I have no idea how we'd fit 90 students on our kindergarten yard, the 66 we have now is already tight - I imagine it would require staggering recess, and lunch, too. There's a lot more than just the "a good teacher with 30 is way way better than a bad teacher with 20" argument to consider. That's an argument I consider offensive, as in my experience there are not that many "bad teachers," and the "bad teachers" likely won't be the ones laid off, the newest teachers will be the ones to go. Not a very smart way to encourage potentially "good" teachers to enter the field.

  48. 8:16 - Thanks for your input on this topic and for the work you do teaching our children.

  49. Seriously....the teachers at my kids' school are my heroes.

  50. from Nicholas Kristof's column in the New York Times today, on health care, but substitute the word education for health care and it works just as well:

    The obstacle isn’t so much money as priorities. America made it a priority to provide tax breaks, largely to the wealthy, in the Bush years, at a 10-year cost including interest of $2.4 trillion. Allocating less than half that much to assure equal access to health care isn’t deemed an equal priority.

    good column. read the whole thing at

  51. Even more apropos, Krugman's column in tomorrow's NYT, in which he explains why supporting public education is patriotic:

    If you had to explain America’s economic success with one word, that word would be “education. ” .... The rise of American education was, overwhelmingly, the rise of public education — and for the past 30 years our political scene has been dominated by the view that any and all government spending is a waste of taxpayer dollars. Education, as one of the largest components of public spending, has inevitably suffered.

  52. Even Warren Buffett thinks the rich get off easy when it comes to taxes. They pay more taxes in absolute terms, but are a lot less squeezed by taxes than the middle class.

  53. A *lot* of kids struggle in 4th grade, but it isn't just class size.

    That's when they *really* make the leap from learning to read to reading to learn. The expectations are *much* higher.

  54. "A *lot* of kids struggle in 4th grade, but it isn't just class size. "

    Not to mention, the effects of puberty...

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