Eliminate the 12th grade?
Sun January 9, 2011 12:25 am

This money-saving idea -- you could eliminate an entire grade's worth of teachers -- comes from former DISD superintendent Linus Wright. I have heard that the 12th grade was added during the Great Depression because hardly anybody went to college in those years, and there were no jobs for students who had "finished" school in the 11th grade.

Of course, times were different then. Today, if you did away with the 12th grade, students would have no opportunity to take the advanced math and science courses that are important for getting into college. (At UT, for instance, the Plan II honors program requires applicants to take calculus.) Nor would they have the opportunity to participate in athletics and other extracurricular activities to the same extent that they do now. For many students, it is those activities that keep them in school.

What I remember most about being a parent of high school students is that the senior year was basically a lost year. All three of my children had serious cases of senioritis--that is, a complete loss of interest in school. By the time the second semester rolled around, two of the three already knew where they were going to college. Nobody did any work in the spring semester. So maybe the best thing to do is to cut the senior year to the fall semester only.

A related subject is doing away with the 22:1 ratio in the lower grades. I have read a fair amount of articles on this subject and, while the evidence is somewhat contradictory, the weight of it points in the direction that smaller classes, usually pegged to a 20:1 student teacher ratio or lesser, does improve test scores. Furthermore, disadvantaged and minority children do significantly better.

Hanushek at Stanford and Hoxbe at Harvard are skeptics. Both are prominent names in the field. Both were invited by TPPF to give presentations several years ago.

There is plenty of evidence on both sides of the debate. If anyone is interested in going deeper into the weeds, click HERE for a good link.

I would simply say the obvious: The future of the state hangs on our ability to educate minority students that are the majority in our public schools. If there is an indication that smaller classes would help, we should do it. Hanushek (who is a skeptic about class size, as I pointed out earlier), explains what is at stake:

If you translate what knowledge means to the economy, you get more startling results. In the comparisons of math and science the U.S. has always performed around the middle or below in international comparison of performance. If the U.S. were to perform at the level of a middle European country, which is not the tops on this test, but doing better than we are, the nation as a whole could expect to have growth rates of around a half of one percent higher per year.

One of the thing Hanushek criticizes is that it is very hard to know what things work in educating students. It is generally agreed that parents are the most important elements. How much do other inputs matter, such as the degrees a teacher has, or class size?

I want to add one thing that I did not include in my original post. Tampering with 22:1 is very dicey for Republicans. Suburban soccer moms are not going to like it when they take their young 'uns to the first day of school in September in Plano and Katy and discover that their darlings are in classes with 30 or more kids. The tea party is nothing compared to the wrath of soccer moms.

The Legislature is going to be tempted to make some decisions that could have a bad effect in the long run. One of the things that conservatives have suggested is doing away with pre-kindergarten. Conservatives tend to think that Pre-K is baby-sitting service. (I once heard Troy Fraser make exactly this point when he was in the House.) But Pre-K is where learning begins, and good instruction is vital. New, improved Pre-K materials were supposed to be available for the next school year, but money woes may doom that possibility. This would be too bad, because the old Pre-K materials weren't very demanding, but the new ones are a serious upgrade. Here is what an education lobbyist wrote me: "The new materials cover a much stronger PreK curriculum. Example: In the old curriculum kids only needed to know 10 letters of the alphabet. Such a weak curriculum could rightly be called "babysitting." The new curriculum is based on a huge new body of research showing young kids are little sponges who can learn a lot - reading skills, math, etc. And they will be expected to know the alphabet and the sounds the letters make. You want to get bang your education buck? Get Pre-K teachers materials they need to get kids learning and on track to succeed in school.

The most likely result is that the state will no longer pay for Pre-K. School districts that want Pre-K will have to pay for it. Given all of the nonsense spending on grant programs outside the Foundation School Program that TEA does, it would make a lot more sense to shift tht money into Pre-K.

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