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Letter: Education policies need to be built on facts, not nostalgia
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A child's donated desk sits in the Georgia Retired Educator Association's museum on Friday, Nov. 2, 2018. - photo by Austin Steele

Mr. John Rosemond was correct to suggest in his column in the Sunday, Feb. 10 print edition of The Times that there are many myths surrounding K-12 education.

Because we all have personal experiences with K-12 education as students and parents, many of us are certain that we understand the issues facing educational policy and are quick to offer our solutions for them.

As an educational policy researcher I feel the need to address, and correct, the most egregious of the myths perpetuated in the column because they do not align with what decades of peer-reviewed research has confirmed as fact and myth.

Fact: Class size reduction is by far the most effective school reform. Not only have decades of research proven this, it should be an easily understood fact that students benefit from more personalized instruction rather than being lost in classrooms with more than 35 students. Mr. Rosemond (who conflates student to teacher ratios with class size) gave readers a nostalgic story akin to walking uphill both ways to school with the mythical story of overflowing classrooms. While student to teacher ratios have varied over time, the metric can be misleading since specialists, librarians and speech language pathologists, for example, are included in the category despite their jobs having no bearing on class sizes — which are rapidly growing.

The passage of laws providing services to students with disabilities beginning in the 1970s has rightly increased the number of special education teachers (lowering the ratio) but doesn’t necessarily impact class size.

Fact: When teachers are taken care of they can properly take care of students. When we board airplanes we are told in the event of an emergency we are to put oxygen masks on ourselves first before aiding minors. If we pass out we are no help to anyone. Teacher unions provide an avenue for teachers to advocate for job protections that translate to benefits for students. States and countries with higher participation in unions rank highest in terms of student achievement. States that have implemented right-to-work policies remain at the bottom. And, in terms of overall student achievement, National Assessment of Educational Progress scores have steadily increased, not declined as was suggested Sunday.

Fact: On the face of it, private schools outperform public schools. Yet, Mr. Rosemond promoted a few myths of his own on the topic. On average, when socioeconomic status is statistically controlled for, public schools actually outperform their private and charter school counterparts. The suggestion that Catholic schools cost less per student is exceedingly misleading. Public schools provide a full range of services for all students (transportation, special education, etc.) that many private schools simply do not provide. So, yes, the price tag may appear lower but the myth doesn’t capture the entire price. More importantly, it doesn’t capture the real costs as private and charter schools exacerbate racial and socioeconomic segregation to a point worse than the segregationist era of the 1950s.

Fact: Educational policymaking should follow the policy prescriptions supported by data in peer-reviewed literature and less on half-truths and anecdotal nostalgia.

T. Jameson Brewer

Assistant professor in social foundations of education, University of North Georgia

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