President Obama today said that state and local budget cuts have contributed to the loss of more than 300,000 teaching and other education jobs since 2009, resulting in crowded classrooms and reduced instructional time for students.
The White House hit the education theme in a one-two punch today, in his weekly address and with the release of a White House report that says the national student-teacher ratio jumped 4.6 percent from 2008 to 2010, essentially nullifying gains made since 2000 in lowering class size.
Obama, in his weekly Internet and radio address, picked up the theme, saying:
Think about what that means for our country. At a time when the rest of the world is racing to out-educate America, these cuts force our kids into crowded classrooms, cancel programs for preschoolers and kindergarteners, and shorten the school week and the school year.
That’s the opposite of what we should be doing as a country. States should be making education a priority in their budgets, even in tough fiscal times. And Congress should be willing to help out — because this affects all of us.
Obama’s call to save teachers’ jobs is in line with a jobs plan he advanced about a year ago that would give money to states to prevent layoffs of teachers and other critical public employees, including $25 billion to save education jobs.
Student-teacher ratios can be deceptive. The White House report says that in 2008 the national average was one teacher for every 15.3 students but that by 2010 it was one teacher for every 16 students.
In many schools, of course, it’s easier to find classrooms with a teacher and more than 30 students — and some have as many as 50 students or more. The report, in fact, acknowledged that class size is much higher in some places, but averages are averages.
Interestingly, the report, titled “Investing in our Future: Returning Teachers to the Classroom,” was written by White House staff and was not the work of the Education Department.
Clearly, the issue is part of the Obama team’s reelection campaign. In his address today, Obama noted that the Republican economic plan “would make the situation [in education] even worse.”
It would actually cut funding for education — which means fewer kids in Head Start, fewer teachers in our classrooms, and fewer college students with access to financial aid — all to pay for a massive new tax cut for millionaires and billionaires.
That’s backwards. That’s wrong. That plan doesn’t invest in our future; it undercuts our future.
And just a few months ago the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, said during a visit to a charter school that smaller class size doesn’t lead to better learning. It doesn’t if there is a horrible teacher or kids intent on not learning, but I’ve never met a teacher who doesn’t say class size doesn’t make an important difference.
In any case, Romney isn’t the only person on the education scene to say that.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan has suggested, as he did here in this November 2010 speech, that Americans are too obsessed with class size and that teacher quality is more important. The notion that they are inextricably linked — that great teachers can’t do their best work with too many students — isn’t part of his calculus.
Bill Gates has famously called for the best teachers to take on more students in an effort to get more kids in front of the most highly effective teachers. Apparently, if a great teacher already has 45 kids, what’s another five or six?
In any case, the irony here can’t be overlooked: While Obama is, once again, calling for efforts to save teachers’ jobs (and that’s a good thing), his Education Department has over the past three years put forth policies that have been viewed by many teachers as nothing but an attack on them, including a misguided push to get districts to evaluate teachers by the standardized test scores of their students.
And that could be a problem for Obama with some teachers this November.
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