June is a happy time for three out of four Seniors who graduate from high school. But it is also a sad time for one in four Seniors who drop out and do not graduate. There is no greater tragedy for students, families and communities than for a struggling student to give up and drop out of school. Without a high school diploma, most dropouts will not be able to get a good paying job or go on to college. While all politicians claim they will increase the graduation rate, none of my opponents have any real plan that would actually help struggling students so that more students will graduate. In this article, I explain why my plan to cut class sizes in half - from 32 students per class to 16 students per class - will increase the graduation rate.
While there are many causes of school dropouts, one of the primary causes is extremely high class sizes. High class sizes prevent struggling students from getting the help they need to succeed in school. We have known for many years that smaller class sizes make a huge difference for struggling students. In 2005, a summary was published of the largest class size experiment ever conducted. Here is the link:
Finn & Gerber, 2005 Small Class Sizes and Graduating from High School, Journal of Educational Psychology, 97 (2), 214-223. (Data from Tennessee STAR Study) https://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/edu-972214.pdf
This study confirmed that even just four years in small classes increased the Graduation Rate from 70% to 88%
The STAR experiment was conducted in Tennessee from 1985 to 1990. About 12,000 students in 80 schools were randomly assigned with 6000 students assigned to a small class size of 15 to 18 students while the other 6000 students were assigned to a regular class size of 22 to 25 students in grades K through 3. In the 4th grade, all students were returned to regular size classes. Students in smaller classes had fewer attendance problems, fewer discipline problems, and much higher test scores.
The helpful effect of small class sizes was most noticeable among lower income and minority students. For example, the drop out rate 12 years later among low income students was cut from 30% to only 12%. Put another way, the graduation rate among low income and minority students skyrocketed from 70% to 88%. Small class sizes were able to greatly reduce and in many cases completely eliminate the so-called "Achievement Gap" or difference between higher income and lower income students. In addition, lower class sizes reduces the teacher attrition rate.
While smaller classes do cost more money, a detailed economic study found that the was a huge net financial benefit to tax payers in helping more students graduate from high school. Specifically, class-size reductions from the STAR study generateda net cost savings of approximately $168,000 and a net gain of1.7 life-years for each high school graduateproduced by small classes.When targeted to low-income students, the savings are more dramatic because these students benefit even more from the smaller class sizes. The study shows the estimated savings increase to $196,000 per additional low-income student who graduates.
Here is this link to this study:
Muenning & Woolf (2007) Health and Economic Benefits of Reducing the Number of Students per Classroom in US Primary Schools American Journal of Public Health
None of my opponents have a real plan to lower class sizes, increase school funding or increase the Graduation Rate
My opponents have proposed all kinds of magic bullet miracle cures to increasing the graduation rate and "close the opportunity gap." The problem is that none of these miracle cures have ever actually worked. The truth is that there is only one change proven to actually make a real difference in helping struggling students. That change is lowering class sizes - not just in the early grades but in all grades.
This is why I will double school funding - adding more than $9 billion to school funding - by repealing billions of dollars in tax breaks for the rich. It is essential that we cut class sizes in half so that struggling students will finally get the help they need to succeed in school and succeed in life. Lowering class sizes is the single most important step we can take to increase the graduation rate in Washington state.
Meanwhile, my opponents have only offered fake solutions. Chris Reykdal advocates for adding a capital gains tax. He has repeatedly claimed that a capital gains tax would raise $1.5 billion per year. The problem with his proposal is that a 5% capital gains tax will only add $500 million per year to school funding - only five percent of the $10 billion per year in additional revenue that is actually needed. But in the Senate (Senate Bill 6102) - not even that 5% plan was passed. The problem with Reykdal's plan is not merely that it falls far short of the revenue needed, but it also requires passage in the legislature which has never happened in the past 20 years and is extremely unlikely to happen in the next 20 years. Our kids need real solutions, not just marketing slogans.
Erin Jones wants to return all of the Lottery money to school funding. This would also only add $100 million to school funding - which is only $100 per student per year or less than $1 per day! Again, the proposal sounds good. But it does almost nothing to address the real problem.
School funding is an important topic because there is a direct relationship between funding for public schools and class sizes. For example, the State of Washington currently suffers from some of the lowest school funding in the nation and the highest class sizes in the nation. As a consequence, the graduation rate in Washington state has not improved in the past several years.
The High School Graduation Rate in Washington State has not increased in several years
Go to the Washington State OSPI website and click on Research, then School Report Card. While it opens to a page that claims to be about the Class of 2015, the 4 year statewide graduation rate is about the class of 2014 and is listed as 77%. Select the Previous year and click Go and you will see that the statewide graduation rate for the Class of 2013 was 76%. The Class of 2012 was 77% and the Class of 2011 was 77%. Put bluntly, there has not been a significant improvement in the graduation rate here in Washington state in several years. Here is the direct link:
The Reason the High School Graduation Rate has not increased is that the State legislature has gutted funding for public schools – preventing struggling high school students from getting the help they need to complete their courses
The lack of progress in improving the graduation rate in Washington state is understandable given that our state legislature has gutted funding for public schools during the past 20 years in order to give billions in tax breaks to Boeing, Microsoft and other wealthy multinational corporations.
The low graduation rate in Washington state is not the fault of students, teachers, parents, schools or school districts. It is the fault of a state legislature that is so corrupt that it is essentially owned by wealthy multinational corporations and cares more about giving tax breaks to the rich than funding our public schools.
As a result of massive tax breaks to wealthy corporations, Washington state now has among the lowest school funding in the nation as a percent of income and among the highest class sizes in the nation. For Grades 1 through 6, the national average class size is 21 students and the average class size in Washington state is 24 students. For Grades 7 through 12, the national average class size is 27 students and the average class size in Washington state is 32 students.http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d13/tables/dt13_209.30.asp
It is impossible to increase the graduation rate when class sizes are so large that struggling students do not get the help they need to complete their courses.
This is why the Washington State Supreme Court has ruled that the State legislature is in “contempt of court.” It is contrary to our state constitution for the legislature to rob billions of dollars from our public schools in order to line the pockets of the corporations and billionaires that paid for their elections.
Despite the fact that the graduation rate in our state has not improved in several years, some school district administrators in Washington state have recently claimed that they have miraculously raised the graduation rate in their school district. They are misleading the public with exaggerated claims of amazing increases in the graduation rate when the evidence shows that there has been no dramatic increase in the graduation rate either of individual school districts or Washington state as a whole. Instead, some school districts have artificially increased their graduation rate by taking advantage of a loophole in the graduation rate formula that allows them to not include struggling students in their school district. In our next article, we explain how OSPI and some school districts are artificially inflating the graduation rate by hiding thousands of struggling high school students and pretending they do not exist! It is one of the worst most despicable scandals in the history of our state and it needs to be stopped.
If I am elected Superintendent, we will not only count every student, we will make sure that every student has the benefit of small class sizes so they can get the help they need to graduate from school and go on to have a successful life. As always, we look forward to your questions and comments.
David Spring M. Ed.
Candidate for Superintendent of Public Instruction