28 Jan 2003 18:07:29 -0800
Most of my elementary school years were with classes in the 10-15
student range. They managed to turn out plenty of dolts. On the other
hand, my high school was 3500 students with classes in the 30-40 student
range which was excellent academically.
Of all the schools I went to (and I went to many), the biggest
determining factor in the quality of the schools was the values and
interest of the community. My experience seems to indicate that in many
areas the parents and local culture really do think an excellent
education plays second fiddle to other things that go on in the school
setting. The most common wastes of time that eclipse education in the
hierarchy of value are sports and ethnic/cultural identity. In a lot of
the more rural areas, athletics ruled the schools; nobody cared if Billy
got a 'D' in basic math if he could score touchdowns and the parents
would get pissed if any of the teachers pointed this fact out. In the
urban schools I went to, being "ethnically correct" mattered more than
being technically correct or learning anything, and god help the teacher
who went against THAT grain.
The best school I went to was an overpopulated suburban public high
school in a fairly upscale area of southern California. The school was
ugly as sin (little beige nuke-resistant Luftwaffe pillboxes) and quite
crowded but seriously cracked the whip academically and as a result were
able to attract really good teachers, including many retired captains of
industry. The school wasn't lily white by any means, but the parents
were damn quick to ride sub-par teachers out of town on a rail,
something which happened more than once while I went there.
In the end, the quality of the schools reflects the priorities of the
parents. The amount of money spent and the size of the classes is
irrelevant if the parents do their job. The only people that benefit
from more money and smaller class sizes are the teacher's unions.