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I'm with the teachers!
March 1, 2012 9:11 PM   Subscribe

A British Columbia teacher offers a spirited defence of education and the right for teachers to strike and raise issues of class size and composition in collective bargaining in this blog post. Meanwhile, BC high school students are walking out Friday in support of the teachers and the concerns they raise about BC's public school system.

BC teachers have been in a prolonged dispute with the provincial government, including several lawsuits over what can be considered at the bargaining table.

I especially appreciate the teacher's post for the description of how small bureaucratic changes (i.e. how class sizes are calculated) result in major changes for students and teachers-- especially students with learning support needs. This reflects what I see as a parent, and is why I'm a parent who supports the strike.
posted by chapps (41 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
chapps, you know that the data doesn't particularly support class size as a determinant of learning outcomes?
posted by wilful at 9:32 PM on March 1, 2012


wilful: "chapps, you know that the data doesn't particularly support class size as a determinant of learning outcomes?"

[Citation Needed]
posted by klanawa at 9:35 PM on March 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


[1]
posted by downing street memo at 9:41 PM on March 1, 2012


Holy heck. That's a powerful letter. My spouse is a nationally board certified teacher and is, next week, driving down to the state Capitol to make a personal appeal to the legislature who are in the midst of launching a full on disaster against teachers and education. Never done anything like that before but is fired up about protecting what's left. Sad.
posted by bz at 9:45 PM on March 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


The citation is Heritage Foundation shit.
posted by mobunited at 9:45 PM on March 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


wilful,
I think her article speaks more to the combination of class size expanding and how many students with special learning assistance needs are mixed into the class and how much support there is for preparing the specific lesson plans for those kids with particular learning needs.

I think teachers should be able to talk about this as part of the collective bargaining process.

Canada doesn't have this Charter school stuff mentioned in the article you posted. Here is something from the abstract:

"We find that traditionally collected input measures -- class size, per pupil expenditure, the fraction of teachers with no certification, and the fraction of teachers with an advanced degree -- are not correlated with school effectiveness. In stark contrast, we show that an index of five policies suggested by over forty years of qualitative research -- frequent teacher feedback, the use of data to guide instruction, high-dosage tutoring, increased instructional time, and high expectations -- explains approximately 50 percent of the variation in school effectiveness."


I am not sure how "frequent teacher feedback", "high dosage tutoring", and "increased instructional time" could be unrelated to class size?
posted by chapps at 9:49 PM on March 1, 2012 [9 favorites]


The citation is Heritage Foundation shit.

Not to play argument from authority, as the study could very well be poorly-designed (won't claim to have read the whole thing myself), but I think you're confusing Harvard with Heritage.
posted by downing street memo at 9:50 PM on March 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


downing street memo: "The citation is Heritage Foundation shit.

Not to play argument from authority, as the study could very well be poorly-designed (won't claim to have read the whole thing myself), but I think you're confusing Harvard with Heritage.
"

I don't know if the study is poorly designed, but it was definitely not conducted in a BC classroom under the conditions described in the letter, which is about much more than simple class size (e.g. having nineteen special-needs students among thirty.)
posted by klanawa at 9:58 PM on March 1, 2012


My mistake. I confused this with another tab I had open, since, well . . . lots of studies disputing class sizes and shitting on teachers in general ultimately originate in conservative think tanks. I apologize.

I will say that charter schools are public-funding parasites that are not representative of education in BC, though.
posted by mobunited at 9:58 PM on March 1, 2012


There is no way on earth that a teacher with a large class can possibly do the things the researchers in the WaPo article cite as factors in school effectiveness--frequent teacher feedback, high dosage tutoring, increased instructional time. I have taught small classes and large classes (with adults, who do not tend to require as much classroom management and are less exhausting to teach than K-12 students) and it's a no-brainer that I could give more individual attention to each student in my smaller classes than I could in the larger ones. And I was better able to help the ones who needed it most.

There will always be students who succeed despite little attention from the teacher. But that does not describe most students, and it definitely does not describe most K-12 students. We are doing them a disservice by creating classrooms like the ones the teacher describes in the OP's first link.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:19 PM on March 1, 2012 [4 favorites]


Increasing class sizes is a great way to force teachers to do more work without having to pay them any more in return.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 10:22 PM on March 1, 2012 [14 favorites]


I think teachers and students have been treated terribly by government since 2002, and it's too bad the 15% wage increase over 3 years is dominating the discourse right now, because Bill 22 appears to be about a lot more than that.

Setting aside the issue of class sizes for a moment, the entire idea that there should be no caps on special needs students is ludicrous. It only works if the government is really serious about providing in-class resources to help special needs students do better.

Listening to the Education Minister is really to experience cognitive dissonance; he says it's okay for teachers to spend more time with special needs students because "normal" and high-achieving students don't need the help from the teacher - they can manage for the most part on their own.

Introducing large numbers of special needs students into class is a great way to make sure no one learns very much of anything (I don't understand why "normal" students don't also deserve as much time with the teacher as possible).

With the 0+0+0 approach to wages over 3 years, let's face it, the government is putting the boots to not only the teachers, but to all public sector employees. But, then again, perhaps they should not have lobbied so hard with Vander Zalm against the HST.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:28 PM on March 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


KokuRyu: "But, then again, perhaps they should not have lobbied so hard with Vander Zalm against the HST."

They've been starving the beast for a while now.
posted by klanawa at 10:32 PM on March 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


This part from the first link is the best analogy I've ever heard for what it is like to teach children:
Barrie Bennett, a well-respected professor working out of OISE (the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto) once compared teaching to organizing a children’s birthday party.

He asked all the parents in the room to recall the amount of work and planning that went into the last party they planned. He listed all the things that needed to be prepared ahead of time, things like a cake, presents, goodie bags, balloons, and games. He discussed the challenges of bringing ten or twelve children into a single home for a period of three hours and keeping them suitably entertained. He had everyone visualize the clean-up at the end of the event, and most importantly, had people reflect on how they felt—tired, exhausted, relieved it was over for another year—after the event.

Barrie, eyes twinkling, then asked us to imagine hosting a birthday party, not for ten children, but for thirty. And instead of entertaining the kids for three hours, we had to do it for six. He casually said, “And instead of goody bags, you have to give tests.” There’s no cake. No games, no prizes, no clowns, no balloons. Instead there are required learning outcomes, unit plans, lesson plans, photocopying, adaptations, modifications and mountains of paperwork. Some of the guests won’t want to be there. Some are not ready to be there, and a few will come with adults who will tell you you’re doing it all wrong.

He asked us to recall those feelings of exhaustion after hosting a party again. Then he told us we’d have to do it again the next day. And the one after that. We’d have to plan and host the equivalent of one hundred and eighty parties. And remember, these aren’t parties where the kids are excited to be there, where you can whip out a clown or chocolate fountain to appease the masses. These are parties where there are tests and assignments and bullies and insufficient resources.

posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:33 PM on March 1, 2012 [26 favorites]


Class sizes are not only about learning outcomes. They are also about teachers' working conditions. Teachers are not just cogs in an education sausage-machine, they are people who have to drag themselves out of bed in the morning to go to work, and guess what? Teacher attrition is a big problem.

(Disclosure: I've just quit my law-talking job and had my first day of teacher training today.)
posted by robcorr at 10:34 PM on March 1, 2012 [5 favorites]


Well, I still think it was a huge mistake for progressives to lobby against the HST. I elect my government to make choices about tax policy, and presumably if I don't like it I can vote government out in the next election. But to stand shoulder to shoulder with a shyster like the Zalm...

Anyway, the $12 billion hole in the budget pretty much matches all the project-spending in Vancouver and Whistler (and nowhere else in our province) related to the Olympics: costs paid to the organizing committee, venues, Sea-to-Sky toll-free highway, Canada Line, Conference Centre, and that fucking new roof on BC Place.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:37 PM on March 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Teacher attrition is a big problem.

It's not a problem in British Columbia, and I can speak from experience. The universities crank out 4000 new teachers every year, with maybe 700 vacancies in BC.

Having worked as a teacher (high school social studies) and in government and the private sector, I have to say that work is, generally speaking, hard. And most of us don't get 3 months off per year.

If they want to win the PR battle (and this strike, cynically engineered by the provincial government, is the first salvo in the provincial election), teachers ought to stick to tying classroom conditions to learning outcomes.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:42 PM on March 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'll never forgive Vander Zalm for keeping AiDS education out of the schools until my grade 12 year as the AIDS crisis was just emerging.
posted by chapps at 10:42 PM on March 1, 2012


Well, on the bright side, the Zalm has to pay Ted Hughes $60,000.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:49 PM on March 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


KokuRyu: "Well, I still think it was a huge mistake for progressives to lobby against the HST. I elect my government to make choices about tax policy, and presumably if I don't like it I can vote government out in the next election. But to stand shoulder to shoulder with a shyster like the Zalm..."

For the record, I agree entirely.
posted by klanawa at 11:02 PM on March 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Most teachers in BC have to get two bachelors degrees before they can teach. Then they have work on call for several years before they get a full time job. You can be in your early 30s and still in search of a permanent job. When they do get a full time job, it may not even be in their area of expertise. Due to being low on the seniority roster, they may be bumped from school to school and grade to grade, shifting from Grade 1 to Grade 6, resource teacher to classroom teacher, and back again. One teacher at my school told our PAC (PTA) that he has taught every single grade in 20 years, not including (I think) 7 or 8 as a resource teacher. Imagine having to navigate all those shifts, along with split classes, changes in principals/schools/government, special needs students and multiple IEPs.

Then imagine that, around 2001, when the current premier was the education minister, your union decided to forgo an 8% salary increase over 3 years so that you could have better classroom size/composition. And now the current government has tried to strip that from the contract. And they want you to take 0% wage increase over four years (the union has been without a contract for almost a year). Your counterparts in Ontario and Alberta, where housing costs are much lower, make $20k a year more.

And the government has appointed a mediator to manage the zero increase budget. They've forbidden the mediator to talk about anything that involves increases in costs/wages. And the government keeps telling the media that you're seeking a 15% wage increase.

I am so glad I didn't become a teacher.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 11:13 PM on March 1, 2012 [9 favorites]


wilful's comment and KokuRyu's comment


If they want to win the PR battle (and this strike, cynically engineered by the provincial government, is the first salvo in the provincial election), teachers ought to stick to tying classroom conditions to learning outcomes.


got me thinking about outcomes...

I found this: John Hattie, The paradox of reducing class size and improving learning outcomes, International Journal of Educational


Which looks at many studies, mostly in the US, but also Canada and Australia, on the impact of classroom size and summarizes these findings in a meta-analysis.

The studies generally show that it makes a difference to have small classes, but it is a small difference, and smaller than other changes -- quality of teaching, for instance (seems obvious this would have a huge impact!) or teacher to student ratio (so a class with fifteen kids/one teacher is the same as 30 kids/2 teachers).

They also report on two US studies showing that small classes improved outcomes for black and minority students, while having significantly less impact on white students. (although double the small impact may not be a large impact... stats are funny!)

The studies note the different styles of learning that works well in either large or small classes, and this makes me think of kids who do well in one learning environment but not another. (i.e. thriving or hating group work). Class size made a big difference for kindergarten students, where teachers are generally skilled at the techniques that work with small class sizes.

Finally, class size in studies may not relate to teacher ratio -- as this article noted a study where outcomes were the same in a class of 30 with two teachers and a class of 15 with one teacher. . . which may explain weird results where "individual attention" and not "class size" was important.
posted by chapps at 11:20 PM on March 1, 2012


It's a fucked-up system. Another strange, unworkable component is the fact that two fundamentally and militantly political organizations, the BCSPEA and the BCTF, are charged with hammering out a collective agreement (and of course, they cannot), while the local school districts, each with their own unique and costs such as busing or whatever, are charged with implementing the collective agreements. On top of all that, the province arbitrarily can rejig the per capital student funding formula, while dictating additional (often unmanageable) costs such as pension top-ups.

The whole system is just a mess.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:24 PM on March 1, 2012


They also report on two US studies showing that small classes improved outcomes for black and minority students, while having significantly less impact on white students.

I can't really say anything about ethnic/racial learning outcomes, but the fact of the matter is that teachers tend to teach to the median ability of the class, which is why higher-performing students will not, very generally speaking, achieve higher outcomes. That's my guess. "Mastery learning" is a way to overcome this and still provide an equitable level of instruction to higher-performing students, but I have no data to support this assumption.

But many of the learning outcomes, such as literacy and numeracy, are going to be learned and reinforced in the home, and not just in affluent households.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:30 PM on March 1, 2012



I can't really say anything about ethnic/racial learning outcome

Unfortunately, it didn't get into the studies that reported this difference so I don't know why the researchers thought this was the case.
posted by chapps at 11:40 PM on March 1, 2012


We need money in this province and we're not going to get it while the gas, property, sales, income, and miscellaneous taxes go up on the individual whilst breaks, exceptions, cuts, and allowances are made for the larger businesses.

Liberals they ain't (well, in comparison to the Tories to a degree).
posted by Slackermagee at 11:44 PM on March 1, 2012 [2 favorites]


What? The Premier's Office is staffed by Conservative retreads, flown in especially to fight the next election, and Falcon and Coleman, arguably the two most powerful ministers after the premier, are hardly on the liberal side of the the party.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:57 PM on March 1, 2012


I'm neither a teacher nor a parent, but I'll never understand how so many parents can simultaneously think parenting is the hardest job in the world and that teachers have it easy.
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:36 AM on March 2, 2012 [13 favorites]


There are stacks of studies of class size and many are available without journal subscriptions via google scholar.
posted by biffa at 2:23 AM on March 2, 2012


In my day, it was more like "students walk out of school in support of...well, not being in school." (though "support the teachers" was usually our stated platform)
posted by ShutterBun at 2:30 AM on March 2, 2012



These are parties where there are tests and assignments and bullies and insufficient resources.

by hurdy gurdy girl


There has to be some way to favorite this multiple times.
posted by notreally at 3:55 AM on March 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Slightly off topic, but this thread makes me think of this surprisingly lefty globe article: Don't tell us it's not a class war

I mean Canada is one of the healthiest western economies at the moment and yet we're also locked into strangling our public sector? What gives? There's been all this doom and gloom in Ontario about growth of only 2%! And apparently the sky is falling! That's about the growth level of the US as a whole and higher than most European countries.

Except Sweden of course. One of the most left leaning western countries bounced back from the recession to post more than 5% growth last year.

*shakes fist*
posted by Alex404 at 6:03 AM on March 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


you know that the data doesn't particularly support class size as a determinant of learning outcomes?

The Brookings Institute published a survey of Class Size Reduction research last year, noting that supporters and opponents of CSR have both been guilty of cherry-picking, but clearly stating this:

Because the pool of credible studies is small and the individual studies differ in the setting, method, grades, and magnitude of class size variation that is studied, conclusions have to be tentative. But it appears that very large class-size reductions, on the order of magnitude of 7-10 fewer students per class, can have significant long-term effects on student achievement and other meaningful outcomes. These effects seem to be largest when introduced in the earliest grades, and for students from less advantaged family backgrounds.
posted by mediareport at 6:22 AM on March 2, 2012


Some contra points of view for people who insist class size does not matter.

Of course, we live in an era where a single oppositional study can be used to beat down decades of research for political ends. (see also: climate change)

Hell, Tennessee was responsible for the gold-standard of class size related research, which is a shame, since the Honorable Governor Pilot Oil seems hell bent on ignoring all of that study's results.
posted by absalom at 6:32 AM on March 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm not in the education system but do have to place children in school (close area to the blog author's city) on an emergency basis - and there is rarely room in the schools in my catchment area. Often, the kids have to travel an hour or so to a school way out of our district. Often the kids I deal with are “special needs” (require more attention than the average student). I don’t fault the teachers or schools for this – they are often very apologetic.

This dispute started years ago when the same gov't closed many schools and layed off teachers. Here's the teachers union perspective. The union also has some references around the class size debate.

This author also teaches in a rather small, primarily white, lower to middle class community, that is rapidly changing. As poor and working class families (and new immigrants) cannot afford the larger city (Vancouver) - they are moving out to the outlining communities, such as Port Coquitlam. The Tri-cities area is reacting strongly in many ways to these changes in their community.

For the single mom's that I know – all who can barely afford to have a job - a teachers strike will be punishing. These mom's cannot afford the extra daycare expenses (gov't cuts there as well) it will take to care their children on strike days - and, of course, they cannot afford to take time off work and loose a day's pay.

This will be an interesting battle.
posted by what's her name at 6:35 AM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


What's her name, if the first article linked is true about this... when teachers strike the school is still open and kids can still be dropped off. No need to find other daycare.
posted by utsutsu at 6:42 AM on March 2, 2012


the fact everyone can site different studies saying class sizes do or don't matter is actually supportive of the statement :

you know that the data doesn't particularly support class size as a determinant of learning outcomes?

(Although I was under the impression the data for younger students was generally considered persuasive)

Of course, we live in an era where a single oppositional study can be used to beat down decades of research for political ends.

I don't think that's the case that there is only one study that shows class size is not a particular meaningful determinant of educational outcomes, and certainly comparing the evidence on either side as being akin to rejecting climate change or evolution is a wild exaggeration.

It's one of those things that isn't answered and is very hard to answer because its hard to create a study that isolates just that factor in comparing outcomes.
posted by JPD at 7:31 AM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


BC high school students walking out Friday in support of a long weekend.
posted by WhitenoisE at 7:48 AM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I remember being a junior high school student during the teachers strike in 1985 or 86... All of the students at my junior high walked out for an afternoon. It wasn't because we wanted a holiday, I remember it was more we were confused, angry and upset, pissed off at how the adults were acting.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:17 AM on March 2, 2012


I'm a speech therapist in the schools, and I really, really needed to hear this today. It's Friday, and I'm exhausted after hosting all these parties. I am about to go home to my own party and watch 30 Rock and Parks and Rec on Hulu with my big duvet cover tucked all around me. Lesson plans can wait.
posted by shortyJBot at 11:57 AM on March 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


David Schreck has a thoughtful blog post with links to some analysis of the current dispute, including BCTF internal politics.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:03 PM on March 6, 2012


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