Sunday, April 13, 2014

Seattle Times editorial on Initiative 1351

The Seattle Times wrote an editorial to discourage people from signing petitions to put Initiative 1351, Class Size Reduction, on the ballot. The editorial was, of course, full of lies, misrepresentations, and unprincipled statements.

I don't know where other people stand on initiatives. Lots of states don't have an initiative process. They are certainly open to abuse. We have seen Costco use the initiative process to buy themselves the law that allows them to sell liquor. We have seen a dozen millionaires and billionaires use the initiative process to buy a charter school law. Tim Eyman writes frivilous initiatives to provide himself an income as the manager of the campaign. There was a time when Tim Eyman was the de facto political leader of this state - it was a time when there was no leadership coming from Olympia.

A number of Mr. Eyman's initiatives, though successful at the ballot box, were reversed by the Court because they failed to meet constitutional requirements. A number of other initiatives which won approval were also revealed to be badly written law. Right now there is a legal case being argued about the constitutionality of I-1240, the Charter School initiative. It is also undergoing some legislative corrections and refinements to fix some of the bad drafting.

Initiatives have also created a number of unfunded mandates. They have to. The law requires that an initiative be about just one thing. If it included a funding source then it would be about two things - the spending and the revenue. So all initiatives, by design, are unfunded mandates.

Despite all of this, there is also a proper role for initiatives. They can allow the state to take necessary action when the political leadership in Olympia is frozen, broken, or going wrong. That pretty much describes the current status when it comes to public education. The Court has ruled, but the legislature is clearly incapable of taking the necessary action. Now comes this initiative to direct immediate action on at least some of the work. When the leaders fail to lead, then the People need to take the lead. That's what we're seeing here.


Melissa Westbrook said...

I would likely sign a petition and vote yes but I feel that Charlie is right; an unfunded mandate gets us nowhere.

On this subject of reducing class size, I had an interesting discussion with a senior staff member who told me that two teachers in a room was not a good idea, wouldn't work, blah, blah. The alternative is more classrooms but where would those come from?

What do people have to say about reducing class size via another teacher or an IA in the room?

Anonymous said...

I think they are different things -- adding a teacher, adding an IA, having smaller classes are three very different things.

I haven't read the initiative, but would probably sign it on principle. But class size initiatives can have perverse effects, limiting the ability of schools to make the choices that work best for them.


Patrick said...

We did pass initiative 728, promoting better teacher's pay and lower class sizes. It passed overwhelmingly. The Leg, in their wisdom, set it aside.

It needs a funding stream.

Anonymous said...

I remember a conversation I had years ago with a senior leader of a Catholic school. He talked about the advantages of having two teachers in a classroom. If a student got disruptive, one teacher could work with that student separately, while the other continued with the class.

Since disruptive classrooms harm students, this seems like a common sense idea for better management.

S parent

Anonymous said...

I think an extra adult in a big class is better than just one adult in a big class, but nowhere near as conducive to learning as a small class. It is too easy for students to disengage in larger classes, and too hard for the teachers to get to know them as individuals. It's easier to differentiate in smaller classes, and easier to guide the students through projects in a meaningful way for them when the number of students is in the teens, or in the older grades maybe low 20's. It's not possible to do that with 25 kids, and some of the kids will be on their own, usually the quiet ones.

I agree that with current class sizes, basic classroom management is difficult enough that another adult would be very helpful just to keep the super wiggly kids from grinding classroom discussion to a halt. But it's not the same as the benefits of smaller class sizes.


Anonymous said...

"What do people have to say about reducing class size via another teacher or an IA in the room?"

For us, we haven't been all that impressed. Although I'm sure each classroom is different, in our experience the additional person doesn't help that much with instruction--they are more likely to serve as an assistant to the teacher, someone to help grade homework and generally make the teacher's life easier. Great for the teacher, but not that much of a benefit in terms of class size reduction.

We've also found the additional staff person used to provide differentiated instruction--great in theory, but if the IA (or intern, in our case) doesn't have sufficient training or knowledge of the curriculum, there isn't really any teaching going on. It's just going out into the hallway with a supervisor to do harder worksheets. When the harder math is not explained and rarely corrected, it seems to me it could do more harm than good. Another reason we're looking forward to doing math independently this summer!


Anonymous said...

Patrick, those were two separate initiatives, although passed in the same year --- I-728 was the class size reduction and I-732 was the teacher cost-of-living pay raises (COLA).

Neither initiative came with a dedicated funding source. There was another initiative a few years later that would have used a sales tax increase to fund them both --- I can't remember the initiative number nor the year --- but it was resoundingly defeated. Voters will almost always voted themselves something for nothing.

Interesting fact: Lisa Macfarlane was the co-chair of the I-728 campaign and is now the state director of Democrats for Education Reform-Washington (DFER-WA).

--- swk

Anonymous said...

I've had small classes and another adult in the room, and which is the better I really can't say. It all truly depends on the kids and the other adult. A small class of really challenging kids is pretty much equal to a large class of somewhat challenging kids. There's maybe a little more room to space them out (but who am I kidding, smaller number of students will likely result in rooms being hastily partitioned), but it was still what I call my whack-a-mole class. A larger class with only one or two disruptive students can be easy sailing, but any size class with about 1/4 challenging students is a battle lost.

A really on top of it adult is extremely helpful in all situations, if they understand the kids and can at least grasp the subject matter as fast it can go swimmingly, and can help target those who need the constant re-directs or more one-on-one instruction. They can also be helpful in identifying student issues that might otherwise go unnoticed. Frequently though I've had aides who were more work than the kids themselves.

If i had to choose I'd go with smaller class sizes. It's consistent at least, and as it is less time grading papers I can spend more time actually analyzing data on an individual level and hopefully target those kids before the D/F grades really set in.

Glad I left

Anonymous said...

Some WEA sources say that they want to get 365,000 signatures.

98 state reps and 28 or so state senators are up for election. these are the people who over road I728 and I732 - like they'll give a crap about ANOTHER unfunded mandate?

Oh yeah - speaking about pooping on working stiffs
IF the labor unions picked 10 or 20 primary opponents to help, and instead of WEA digging up 365k signatures for their feel good waste of time, WEA did real grassroots organinzing and they made 365,000 contacts AGAINST 10 or 20 incumbents -

guess who would stop crapping on working stiffs? At least the unemployed incumbents.

Of course, I digress - how could the Federal Way Headquarters crowd of WEA look analytically at the upcoming primary season with out jeopardizing all their Olympia country club relationships? It isn't like the headquarters people are