Luna Logic

Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction has a plan to “transform” education. Luna calls his plan “Students Come First”, a classic example of Orwellian double speak. Two key recommendations are increasing class size and requiring students to take at least eight credits of online courses to graduate.

He claims that his plan would only mean an increase in class size from an average of 18.2 to 19.8. This is a blatant example of “lying with averages”. Luna arrives at the figure by dividing the number of students enrolled statewide by the number of full time teachers. It is obvious how misleading this figure is. Consider a special education teacher with 8 students and a regular classroom teacher with 32 students. Divide 40 by 2 and you have an average of 20 students. As representatives from the Boise and Meridian school districts pointed out, there are no regular classrooms in those districts with 18 students. Luna’s plan would result in 4-6 grade classes of approximately 30 in Boise and 32 in Meridian.

Luna sidestepped the importance of class size on student success by claiming that “study after education study demonstrates that quality teachers and principals are more critical to success than class size”. Of course, what numerous studies have demonstrated is that both those variables, small class size and quality teaching, are critical to student success.

Luna’s statement implies that there have been no studies demonstrating the positive impact of small class size on student achievement. This is simply not true. Project STAR is a paradigm example of a rigorous experimental, longitudinal study showing the positive advantages of small class size. Interestingly enough, the STAR project defined small classes as 13-17 students per teacher and regular sized classes as 22-25 students per teacher. Who knows what the results would have been if class sizes of 30-32 had been part of the study?

After claiming that quality classroom teachers are the key to student success, Luna then proposes a plan that, by requiring students take a minimum of 8 online credits, removes the classroom teacher from the course. This is not something that will happen in the distant future. Ninth-graders in fall 2012 will be required to take at least two courses online each year and will need eight online course credits (out of 48 total) to graduate.

Luna makes no claims that studies exist showing online learning to be more effective than “face-to-face” classroom learning. That is because there is no evidence. If fact, online learning is such a new phenomenon, Luna is committing the state to an educational practice for which there is no definitive evidence that it will improve student success. In 2009, the Department of Education did a meta-analysis of online learning. The key finding was,

Few rigorous studies of the effectiveness of online learning for K-12 students have been published. A systematic search of the the research literature from 1994 through 2006 found no experimental or controlled quasi-experimental studies comparing the learning effect of online versus face-to-face instruction for K-12 students that provide sufficient data to compute an effect size.

The meta-analysis did conclude that “blended classes” (combining face-to-face learning with online learning) had a modest effect size advantage over online alone or face-to-face alone. Of course, in those blended classes there was one classroom teacher utilizing online resources to supplement his or her teaching.

So, Luna’s loony logic:

  1. If I increase class size (because having a quality teacher in the classroom is more important than class size)
  2. And I reduce the classes where students are learning from classroom teachers by requiring them to take online courses
  3. Then, students come first!

I think Luna’s real logical decision-making goes like this;

  1. By eliminating 770 teaching jobs,
  2. I can pay back the out-of-state online education providers who contributed $19,000 to my 2010 campaign
  3. and insure that I will have the finances to get re-elected next time.
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