Congratulate kids, don’t belittle them
I was insulted by the tone and startled by the inaccuracies in the Nov. 20 Crossroads op-ed on Wisconsin’s SAGE class-size reduction program.
Christian Schneider of the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute called the program a “horror” for Wisconsin, asserting the only value of small class sizes is that teachers can better supervise kids who eat glue.
My husband and I chose Milwaukee Public Schools’ Fratney Street School for our three children because it offers smaller class sizes and an opportunity to learn Spanish. My younger son does not eat glue. In fact, he does not eat much food at all, due to a medical condition.
Fratney’s lower teacher-to-student ratio and school nurse mean that he receives some individual attention during snack and lunch time. When he eats very well, or not at all, I may receive a phone call from the school. I cannot imagine him receiving this kind of attention in the 35-student classrooms that Schneider favors.
When he states that Japan and South Korea are doing great with 35-kid classrooms, I’d ask him to compare their unemployment rates and cultural factors to Milwaukee: a city with one of the highest rates of childhood poverty in the United States. And when Schneider asserts that without the SAGE program, schools would see class sizes rise from 15 to 17 students, he is simply wrong.
Remaining SAGE programs in MPS have around 18 students in each class. Talk to the teachers at Milwaukee Spanish Immersion or Hartford Avenue schools, which lost SAGE this year. I can guarantee you they don’t average 17 kids per class without SAGE.
The academic benefits of smaller class sizes are evident. MPS has several SAGE-supported schools that achieved remarkable gains in test scores, including Rogers Street Academy and Browning School, which achieved double-digit increases in their math and reading scores. The hardworking scholars at 81st Street School realized a double-digit jump in reading scores. And reading scores also increased significantly at Fratney.
Schneider would have more credibility if he got his facts right and discussed schools without resorting to calling children in low-income schools glue-eaters or using bad data and bogus comparisons.
We all agree that all schools need to do better, including MPS, voucher and charter schools. But when reforms such as SAGE are working, and where kids and teachers are succeeding, let’s all congratulate and support them.
Angela McManaman lives in Milwaukee.