Last year was my first foray into tromping the halls of Olympia as a novice education advocate. I'm still far from an expert--which was one of my reasons for being so reticent to have a political voice.
I think many of us feel that way. The first step, as always, is just to pay attention...read, watch, listen, make up your mind (and remember, it's okay to disagree with your colleagues, your school, and your union, as long as your disagreement is informed).
WEA keeps an active site that is a good place for your radar to first ping: OurVoice. A few bills of note (and I think they're all still live as I type this...but things can change quickly!)
- S5588: Restricts use of half-days for professional development, marketed as "changing the definition of 'school day.'" (WEA's take, here.)
- HB1293: Requires districts to disclose the real costs of testing, which has led parents to ask legislators a question they cannot seem to answer.
- HB1673: Gradually reduces student-to-teacher class size ratios for calculating state allocations, including provisions for even smaller class sizes in high-poverty schools. According to this document, Washington would need to hire over 12,000 teachers to bring our class size to the national average (we're presently the 4th most crowded).
While there are other bills (and troubling ideas) out there and various stages of their life cycles, ranging from misguided attempts to businessify the teacher evaluation model that hasn't even been given the chance to get off the ground to others that affect collective bargaining, the class size bill, HB1673, is the one I'm thinking about at the moment.
The class size debate is not new, of course, and as such it is far too easy for our voices to become like those of Charlie Brown's teachers.
If we are to properly serve each individual student as they deserve--and as we are charged--the proportion of my time I can devote to does matters, but in reality, here's how I can tell if my class size is right:
- By Wednesday of the second full week of school in September, I know every kid in each of my classes by name and by handwriting (since freshmen so often forget their names).
- There are not so many people in the room that mere collaborative conversation is so loud as to preclude allowing kids work in teams on a project or learning activity.
- If I want my students to sit in a large circle so we can face each other for a college-prep Socratic discussion about a work of literature, I do not have to reserve the cafeteria to do so.
- If each kid spends 15 minutes and submits one full paragraph of writing (about 2/3 an MLA page if typed to my standards) then I can get it back to them with meaningful, individualized formative feedback within two school days or sooner so that they can immediately apply my feedback to the development of their skills.
When I think about the kinds of stories I can tell policymakers about pending bills, I know data and numbers are short, sweet, and digestible (though inherently manipulable). If we want legislators to recognize the complexity of our work in any of the bills they consider, we need to keep painting a human face on those numbers (in particular at 33:50 of this video). We could take each period (55 minutes) and divide it by the number of students (31) and point out that this means a maximum of one minute and forty-six seconds of individualized attention for each student--assuming I do no whole-class instruction and no one has a complicated question that I cannot answer with a rubber stamp. I could complain about how large classes means more unpaid assessment of student work on my weekends and evenings--but those are not the real reason why I support smaller class size.
I support smaller class sizes because I see how much more quality teaching and meaningful learning takes place in a class of 24 versus a class of 31. The relationship is exponential, not linear. That very complex picture is the one we need to paint.