It’s been a bad week for school news. We had the school bus beating video, which is just horrific.

But on the home front, I have a number of friends with kids in the school system who are just so unhappy with their kids’ teachers/classes this year.

I’m not going to comment on anything specific, but let me talk about the problem from a generic point of view.

We live in Ontario, Canada, where the Liberal provincial government put down a law a few years ago saying that grade four classrooms and under could not exceed 20 students. After all, the early years are the most important, so we need more one-on-one time. So let’s mandate it!

The only problem is, this had already been tried in California and had been a miserable failure. The best teachers with the most seniority vied for these “easy” jobs in small classrooms, while the new teachers took the higher grades, often with 35 kids. Portables sprung up all over the place because you needed more classrooms. They had to hire people who weren’t properly trained to teach to make up for all the extra classrooms that were now needed.

But the worst thing of all: split grades.

And that’s what’s happened in Ontario, too.

Take a rural school that doesn’t have a lot of kids. Let’s say you have 18 in kindergarten, 23 in grade one, 22 in grade 2, and 19 in grade 3.

You have a problem, because your grade 1 and grade 2 classes are too big. So you can move a few grade 1’s down to the kindergarten class and make a split grade. Then, with the extra grade 1 you move him or her up to grade 2. You now take the two extra grade 2 students and put them in grade 3, which creates 1 extra grade 3 child, that you have to move up to grade 4. Etc. etc.

It gets to be an even bigger nightmare if the numbers are more like: 16, 24, 26, 17, or something.

So here’s the question: is it easier to teach 28 grade 1 students, let’s say, or a class with 14 grade 1’s and 6 grade 2’s? Remember, you still have to cover all of the curriculum. You may have fewer students, but you have a harder job.

In any given classroom, you have a two grade standard deviation on either side. So in grade 3, for instance, you have some kids working at a grade 1 level and some kids working at a grade 5 level. You’ve already got a mixture of abilities and learning styles there.

If you add children a year younger, you now increase the ability level even more. A good teacher will try to individualize work to where those kids are, but it’s hard when you’re trying to cover more curriculum.

What some teachers do is to just give up trying. They just teach to the middle, and the rest fall by the wayside. The gifted grade 2’s who may have received individual care in a complete grade 2 class now can’t get that because the teacher has to spend spare minutes teaching the other grade.

And what’s worse is that if your child is labelled on the “lower” learning end, so they go in the top of a split (so a grade 2 child in a 1/2 split rather than a 2/3 split) may never make up that difference. The other grade 2’s spend an entire year hearing the grade 3 curriculum. The smart ones probably do the grade 3 curriculum. But the grade 2’s stuck in a 1/2 split hear the same material they learned last year again. If they get put back in a straight grade 3 class the next year, they’ll start the year behind the grade 3’s who were in the 2/3 split the previous year. They were already in the bottom 50%; how can they ever make it up now? You’ve now taken a child in grade 2 and labelled him or her, probably for their whole school career.

And all of this was done because it was supposed to help kids.

Governments often do things that “sound” good without thinking through the ramifications. In this case, there are huge ramifications and very little good that can come out of it. It makes a nightmare for principals who have to juggle numbers to get the right class size, and a nightmare for teachers who have to teach to such disparate learning levels. And who does it really help?

Split classes were done years ago just to help the gifted kids get ahead. If you were gifted, you were often moved up just so you could hear the next lesson. I can sort of understand that, although you do hit a ceiling. I had a friend whose son was gifted, and he was always on the lower end of a split. So in grade 7 he learned all the grade 8 material. When he got to grade 8, there was nowhere else to put him, so he had to sit through that year all over again (they don’t skip kids anymore, after all). So it ended up being a waste of time.

Today, though, they split grades just to make the numbers match. It’s ridiculous. And I don’t think it helps education. It may help teachers’ unions, since it creates more jobs, but it doesn’t help the kids. And a bunch of my friends’ children are currently suffering for it.

I have lots more posts on education, parenting, and marriage! Stay a while and read a bit!