What does an Ontario economist know about class size?

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Well, in less than 400 words, your Feb. 21 editorial "debunked" the effectiveness of Manitoba's plan to limit kindergarten to Grade 3 classrooms to 20 students (Caps on class size debunked).

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 05/03/2012 (3811 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Well, in less than 400 words, your Feb. 21 editorial “debunked” the effectiveness of Manitoba’s plan to limit kindergarten to Grade 3 classrooms to 20 students (Caps on class size debunked).

Just how the writer managed this feat, given that much research supports the benefits of smaller class sizes on learning in children’s early years, is easy to see, though it requires an admittedly bizarre “recipe.”

First, you need to compare oranges to apples and place your faith heavily in the report of Ontario economist Don Drummond, who was asked to deliver a laundry list of suggested budget cuts to the Ontario government.

Next, you need to ignore the motives of Drummond’s two thin pages on Ontario class sizes, accept his conclusions and apply his Ontario-centric thinking to Manitoba students and schools.

Let’s be clear, shall we?

Drummond is not an educator. He is not a Manitoban and he is not even looking out for the best interests of Ontario’s schoolchildren. He is a former TD Bank chief economist with a mission to justify potential budget cuts for a McGuinty government that has deep and largely self-inflicted financial problems.

Drummond’s eyes are not on a hopeful future for kids and teachers in his province. He is not a friend of education. He’s not looking to enrich relationships between classroom teachers and their students. He’s not even focused on improving student learning. He might have somehow been capable of doing such things, but that was emphatically not the mandate he was given.

It’s ironic that the sources Drummond cites — and which the Free Press editorial echoes loudly — have said that smaller class sizes in kindergarten to Grade 3 do, in fact, make a difference.

On Page 1 of a 17-page C.D. Howe commentary School Class Size: Smaller Isn’t Better, we find this: “Research on the issue shows that restricting class sizes to below 20 students in kindergarten and Grade 1 improves student achievement.”

The report goes on to say that research from many countries — including results from international tests such as the School Achievement Indicators Program and Programme for International Student Assessment — shows that “smaller class sizes do not seem to produce better achievement results in Canadian schools for pupils aged 13 years and older.”

But no one in Manitoba is arguing for extending a class-size cap to students beyond Grade 3. Research makes clear the benefits of smaller class sizes in the early grades. The more diverse a student population becomes, the more attention one must pay to class size. The positive effects of smaller classes are more noticeable for students who are learning English or who have limited experience with school, and students with special learning needs. Given Manitoba’s active pursuit of immigrants to bolster our population and our workforce, I have two words: Pay attention.

Research by the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto showed in 2010 that “smaller classes may have the greatest positive impact on students with the greatest educational needs.”

Manitoba is heading in a new direction with the promise of better education for its youngest students. If properly implemented, the Manitoba government’s shift in focus from “K to 12” to “Cradle to graduation” will truly make a difference. But it needs to be done well, and it needs to be supported properly.

We wonder why the editorial eagerly douses the hope of continued progress made in Manitoba by pointing to the report of a non-teacher in a neighbouring province and saying it just won’t work.

Remember, Drummond doesn’t want to increase class sizes just for early-years students; he wants across-the-board increases right up to the final year of high school.

This is misguided counsel from a corporate technocrat who was not, to my knowledge, even given the option of considering anything but draconian cuts to government services.

It is thinking that has no place in Manitoba schools, and for your editorial to recommend this course of action is to advocate against the interests of Manitoba’s children, teachers and economy.

Paul Olson is president of the

Manitoba Teachers’ Society.

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