Danny Westneat's column in the Times this week certainly had a challenge to Bill Gates about class size.
Bill, here's an experiment. You and I both have an 8-year-old. Let's take your school and double its class sizes, from 16 to 32. We'll use the extra money generated by that — a whopping $400,000 more per year per classroom — to halve the class sizes, from 32 to 16, at my public high school, Garfield.
In 2020, when our kids are graduating, we'll compare what effect it all had. On student achievement. On teaching quality. On morale. Or that best thing of all, the "environment that promotes relationships between teachers and students."
First, he explains how Lakeside, where Bill went to high school, thinks about class size:
"Ask any alumnus what the best thing about Lakeside is," the school's brochure urges. "And they will likely mention an environment that promotes relationships between teachers and students through small class sizes."
This is pertinent because Bill Gates has been saying that smaller class sizes are a big waste of money. He's calling for an end to state caps on how many students can be in a classroom.
"Perhaps the most expensive assumption embedded in school budgets — and one of the most unchallenged — is the view that reducing class size is the best way to improve student achievement," Gates said last week to a gathering of governors.
As Danny says:
Now let me clarify: Gates is suggesting larger classes in public schools.
Not the private ones like his daughter's that advertises - you guessed it - smaller class sizes.
Gates' theory is that with a good teacher all things are possible (and throw more money to the teachers and they won't care). Danny susses this out:
I looked up that study, done at the UW in 2008, and what it actually says is teachers prefer a $5,000 pay boost to having two fewer students. They weren't ever asked about more students.
Of course a high-quality teacher can do better in a larger class than a struggling teacher. But let's be fair to teachers - there is a point where all the effort and skill cannot overcome the numbers (especially with students with issues including behavior issues). Class size is not the straw man that Gates makes it out to be.
I know I won't get praise for this but I'm sorry - Gates barely saw the inside of a public school and his children never will. That he gives to them what the rest of us want makes him more than a little hypocritical.