N&O + Martinez = Mouthpiece for the John Locke Foundation

I don't expect much from the N&O any more . . . but I do expect them not to be whores for the John Locke Foundation.

Take a look at Ricky Martinez' latest column below, and compare it to the press materials recently issued by Johnny Be Hood of the Pope-a-Dope Center for Whatever. Truly disgusting.

First the press release.

RALEIGH – Smaller class sizes do not translate into better public-school performance. That’s the key finding in a new analysis from the John Locke Foundation.

The idea behind the state’s $23 million class-size reduction program was that smaller classes would help students by giving them more access to individualized instruction. But after four years, there is no statistical evidence that the program works.

The High Priority Schools Initiative (HPSI) aimed to improve low-performing and low-income schools by reducing class sizes. In his latest Spotlight paper, John Locke Foundation education policy analyst Terry Stoops analyzes the final report on the HPSI by the State Board of Education and finds the program lacking any proof it even works.

“It seemed to make sense that smaller class sizes would lead to higher educational achievement,” Stoops said. “But in fact, the opposite happened. As class sizes decreased, so did achievement.”

The HPSI report compared the 36 schools in the program with nine schools not in the program, Stoops said. These comparison schools had similar demographics to the high-priority (HP) schools. They did not have reduced class sizes.

In 2004-05, after four years of the program, 7 percent fewer HP schools were meeting their expected ABC growth targets than before. At the same time, 45 percent more comparison schools were meeting growth targets than in 2001-02.

“Comparison schools showed greater improvement than the HP schools even in reading proficiency,” Stoops said, “even though reading was the area where smaller class sizes were thought to provide the greatest benefits.”

The percentage of HP schools meeting the federal No Child Left Behind law’s standards for Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) also declined, Stoops said. Meanwhile, comparison schools meeting AYP standards increased.

“The best the HPSI report could say in favor of the program was based not on statistical evidence, but only anecdotal evidence,” Stoops said.

Now for Mr. Martinez' brilliant column:

Even schoolkids have enough sense to understand that you don't put out a fire with gasoline; it only makes the problem worse. Too bad our state's education and political leaders can't grasp the concept.

Much of North Carolina suffers from a classroom space crunch. Last week, Wake County taxpayers were reminded that a potential $1.5 billion bond issue would be just the down payment on a 10-year construction plan that could cost approximately $5 billion.

Seats aren't the only education commodity in short supply. We're told a severe teacher shortage threatens North Carolina's economic future. So if growth and the lack of teachers have become such burning issues, why do political and education leaders insist on making these problems worse by funding class-size reduction programs -- which require more classrooms and instructors?

Of course, we've all heard the rationale. The governor, educators and their legislative minions proclaim that smaller classes produce smarter kids. That sounds good, but it's not true in North Carolina.

So says a detailed evaluation commissioned by the state Department of Public Instruction and then dug up by Terry Stoops, a nosy John Locke Foundation education analyst. The study evaluated a four-year class-size reduction project in grades K-3 at 36 low-achieving schools. None of the project classes exceeded 15 students, and many had teaching assistants as well. Reading and math skills of these kids were compared to counterparts in nine schools with a similar mix of under-performing, low-income students.

The $23 million state-funded project yielded no significant statistical evidence that smaller classes increase student achievement.

There was a slight improvement in reading skills, and a little improvement in math over the four years, but that progress couldn't be tied to lower class size. As the final paragraph in the study's conclusions states, "Taken together, these findings suggest that there may have been some reading improvement at the HP (high priority) schools attributable to smaller class size. At the end of Year 4, many of the district and school level stakeholders believed this to be true, continuing to provide anecdotal evidence that increases in students' academic achievement can be ascribed to the initiatives components, particularly reduced class size."

So after four years and $23 million, we're right back where we started: anecdotal evidence based on educators' beliefs that smaller class sizes improve academic performance.

That's not good enough. With mediocre student performance, low high school and college graduation rates and classroom and teacher shortages, North Carolina can't afford to continue to invest in myths. But that's exactly what the state is going to do.

Half of the education lottery proceeds for state government are earmarked for class-size reduction and preschool programs -- two Big Education financial black holes that don't raise student achievement but do exacerbate classroom and teacher shortages. Common sense, and now DPI-sanctioned research, dictate that the General Assembly change the allocation formula so that more lottery money goes to school construction, and that funding for unproductive class-size reduction and preschool programs, such as Smart Start and More at Four, dries up.

Terry Stoops of the Locke Foundation told me the study inadvertently reveals that teacher quality, not student quantity, is a better determinant of student achievement. He's right. Most of the report's final recommendations are on teacher competence, classroom management, attendance and discipline -- issues that affect classes of all sizes.

In fact, self-centered teachers may have hampered the project's students. Half of the instructors complained about having to work 10 extra days during the school year, and many didn't like the stigma of teaching low-performance kids.

The evaluation is now in the court of the State Board of Education. Only time will tell if the board has the courage to use it to tell Gov. Mike Easley and the General Assembly to stop throwing away millions on class-size reduction. The board has a rare opportunity to begin a tradition of developing education policy based on solid research conducted in North Carolina, and not on anecdotes designed to make educators and politicians feel good.

Notice any similarities?

I know it can be challenging to come up with interesting things to write about week after week . . . but borrowing 99% of your copy from a right-wing stink tank? That's pretty sad.

You can write the N&O here but don't expect them to do anything about it. Better to just cancel your subscription with a note that says: Why pay for recycled drivel from Rick Martinez when I can find it on the John Locke Foundation site for free?

This would be laughable if it weren't so sad. And as I've said on more than one occasion . . . Steve Ford needs a new job.