INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. - Democratic legislators were guilty of "piling on" State Superintendent of Instruction James Guthrie last week. Testifying before a joint meeting of the Nevada Assembly Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee, Guthrie said: "In an ideal world I would ask that you lift (legislatively mandated) class size restrictions and let local school districts decide how best to spend their resources." He might as well have bitten them on the rear end.
Democrats, who equate class size reduction with the Holy Grail, responded shrilly. Senator Debbie Smith (D-Sparks) retorted: "If we didn't fund class size I'd hate to see what class sizes would be." Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick (D-North Las Vegas) said: that "would set our teachers up for failure."
Assemblyman David Bobzien (D-Reno) said that while he might support eliminating class size limits at some point "when we're trying to hold this whole system together with duct tape and bailing wire ... we're not there yet."
Forget for a moment that these people are lecturing a guy who holds undergraduate and advanced degrees from Stanford, ran the Education Department at UC Berkeley for 27 years and did post-doctoral work at Oxford University, England; forget that Jim has been an educational consultant to eight nations, the World Bank, UNESCO, OECD and the Organization of American States; forget momentarily that Nevada Democratic legislators are in the pocket of the teacher union which wants the money and power associated with new teacher hires that further classroom reduction would entail.
Consider only that Dr. Guthrie has said on innumerable occasions that the most important factor in student achievement is good teachers; that he wants good teachers to enjoy the same pay and prestige as medical doctors; and that taxpayer dollars are finite and when legislators spend money on one thing it's not there to be spent on another. Dr. Guthrie was giving a lesson on education economics but his Democrat students flunked.
Most class size reduction studies have shown there is little or no correlation between smaller class sizes and student achievement except in some cases of disadvantaged or unruly students. To date Nevada has spent $2.21 billion on the Silver State's 21 year old K-3 class size reduction program to hire and retain additional teachers so the student/teacher ratio comes out right.
Additionally, local Nevada property taxpayers have funded an undetermined amount to build, heat and maintain the additional classrooms required. Results: Nevada's own evaluations have shown that students in class sizes ranging from 1 to 15 have dramatically underperformed their peers in larger class sizes on both reading and math tests.
As Nevada Policy Research Institute points out, standout teachers are in limited supply. Hiring "warm bodies" to fill additional classrooms does little more than dilute the teacher talent pool exposing more students to lower quality teachers. Suppose an enlightened legislature did as Dr. Guthrie suggested ... allow Nevada School Districts to spend distributive school account monies on attracting top flight educators to improve student achievement. Think of how many really outstanding teachers Nevada could have with that $2.21 billion.
The teacher union doesn't let facts get in the way of their political goals. With their financial muscle (derived from dues paid by teachers) the fight will undoubtedly go on.
- Jim Clark is president of Republican Advocates; he has served on the Washoe County and Nevada State GOP Central Committees. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.