There’s no question that the American public school system is operating in the danger zone. While we fight trillion dollar seemingly endless wars, bail out banks that continually play fast and loose with other people’s money, and maintain a bloated defense budget, cities and towns are getting squeezed and the students are getting shafted.

A recent article about the deteriorating state of a New York high school education pointed out that schools are phasing out electives such ad drivers’ education and courses in the arts. A cap on property taxes has restrained schools spending, the reserves used to offset spending cuts are already depleted in some districts, and some schools could face insolvency within a year.

Another 475 jobs are expected to be lost next year on top of 1,200 local education jobs lost over the last three years – including 700 last year. The students can look forward to larger class sizes, a reduced choice in electives, cuts to extracurricular activities (including sports), and spending a longer time on the bus as routes are consolidated. This is not just a problem in New York, and it’s not a new problem. The Committee for Education Funding, a nonpartisan and nonprofit education coalition, has put together an impressive document outlining the deleterious effects of educational cuts across the nation.

Back in 2010, The Nation asked students to write a first-person account of how their education has been compromised by budget cuts and tuition increases. One high school student in New Jersey wrote:

“Severe budget cuts to schools have hindered education all across the state, penalizing the only group of people who did not contribute to the deficit: the students,” she writes. Her school received several million dollars less than administrators were expecting. As a result, “Dozens of teachers will lose their jobs in the next fiscal year; custodians will be limited and many people in supervisor positions will be reassigned to lower-paying jobs. Most non-varsity sports teams will be cut. A group of elective classes will no longer be offered. … The late buses have been cut; students must now wait hours after school for transportation home, even if their activity ended just forty-five minutes after the final bell. … All field trips have been eliminated.”

The student, of course, is writing about the drastic budget cuts imposed by the loud and large Governor Chris Christie. Back in 2010, Christie cut a whopping $820 million from New Jersey’s public school budget. Apparently, balancing the budget on the backs of the wealthy was never in the cards as Christie simultaneously vowed to roll back the “millionaire tax” as he cut millions from education and services to the poor.  Christie, of course, is one of the names being floated as a possible running mate for Mitt the Twit. It would be a marriage made in hell.

Speaking of Mitt, he held an educational roundtable in Philadelphia, and proved once again that he’s out of touch with reality and has little grasp on sound educational policy. While funds are being cut from education programs across the nation, Mr. 1% called for expanding charter schools (privately run but paid for by taxpayers), and creating a voucher system so that poor and disabled students can attend private schools, also using public money. Romney obviously feels that this is the magic bullet for the nation’s educational woes. I can’t understand the logic of abandoning the public school system in favor of creating a new school system funded by taxpayers. While people love the myth that Charter Schools outperform their public school counterparts, research shows otherwise.

Mitt, ever the genius, also stated that two-parent families is one of the three key contributors to educational success (along with good teachers and strong leadership). Perhaps Romney’s most boneheaded statement is that class size doesn’t matter. Steven Morris, a music teacher at the Universal Bluford Charter School where Romney’s educational roundtable was held, disagreed with Romney’s statement on classroom size:

“I can’t think of any teacher in the whole time I’ve been teaching, over 10 years — 13 years — who would say that more students would benefit them. And I can’t think of a parent that would say ‘I would like my kid to be in a room with a lot of kids,’” Morris said. “So I’m kind of wondering where this research comes from.”

Indeed, research shows just the opposite, particularly in the early years. Here are some of the key points from the research:

  • Smaller classes in the early grades (K-3) can boost student academic achievement;
  • A class size of no more than 18 students per teacher is required to produce the greatest benefits;
  • A program spanning grades K-3 will produce more benefits than a program that reaches students in only one or two of the primary grades;
  • Minority and low-income students show even greater gains when placed in small classes in the primary grades;
  • The experience and preparation of teachers is a critical factor in the success or failure of class size reduction programs;
  • Reducing class size will have little effect without enough classrooms and well-qualified teachers; and
  • Supports, such as professional development for teachers and a rigorous curriculum, enhance the effect of reduced class size on academic achievement.

Perhaps the best advice I can give, and I’m speaking as a parent of two school-age children, is to get informed about what is going on in your school district and what it means for students in the long term. Do not expect politicians to ‘do the right thing.’