Concerning the form of Vernon's government.... In 1996, the five members of the Vernon Charter Study Commission voted 4 to 1 in favor of recommending a change of the town's form of government.
They recommended a change from a five member Township Committee with an appointed Township Administrator to a five member Town Council with an appointed Township Manager.
So there you have it.
But perhaps, considering our increasingly mobile society and its ever shorter memory, a backstory is in order.
To review: a Vernon Charter Study Commission was elected in Nov. 1995.
In 1996, the five elected members (Helen Carew, Michael Bonomo, Stephen Imbarrato, John Durham, James Kilby) of the Commission got to work, and by August they voted 4 to 1 in favor of recommending a change from a five member Township Committee with an appointed Township Administrator to a five member Town Council with an appointed Township Manager.
And in the Nov. 5, 1996 general election, the Commission's recommendation to change to the Council/ Manager Plan of Government was approved.
Among the five commission members, the one dissenting vote came from Stephen Imbarrato, a Highland Lakes resident whose independent organizing and petitions had activated the movement to reform the town government in the first place.
Imbarrato was the only one of the five elected commission members who was identified with the movement to reform Vernon's town government. He advocated a council with at least three ward seats, and with a mayor elected by the people, not a figurehead mayor-councilman internally selected by his/her councilmates.
It might be argued that the Nov. '96 public referendum was anticlimactic: the "people's choice" was reduced to voting for either (a) the Council/Manager form of government, or for (b) No Change.
Either way, Vernon Township would be in no danger of a democratically elected mayor or, worse yet, a democratically elected council of representatives from the town's geographic wards.
In his dissenting opinion, published in the final report of the Commission, Imbarrato said that the average voter might perceive the Commission's recommended change to be not much of a change at all; nevertheless, he felt it was important that the commission-recommended change to a Council/Manager form be approved by the people of Vernon - who would then, at least, have the power of initiative and referendum under the Faulkner Act.
Although its significance was little understood by most Vernon residents in 1996, some realized that the process of initiative and referendum could change the political game considerably.
Collecting signatures on a petition to place a referendum on the ballot is easier than organizing a candidate's winning campaign for election to public office; and, as it develops, low voter turnouts in general elections also mean fewer signatures needed on a petition for a public referendum.
It should be mentioned that, earlier, during its study phase, the Vernon Charter Study Commission held public informational meetings in various locations around town, and had distributed a questionnaire via the Advertiser News to every resident of Vernon. The questionnaire provided residents with a way to submit their input and comments about Vernon's government.
The newspaper containing the questionnaire was mailed to appx. 9,000 households.
Only 34 questionnaires were returned to the commission.
It would appear that Charter Reform was not a burning issue to Vernon residents in 1996.
The commission also reported it had interviewed a variety of past and present public officials, school officials, emergency service volunteers, town employees, civic leaders, and media representatives.
The commission report said that the interviews resulted in these findings of weaknesses in the Township Committee form of government:
"Lack of long-range planning -- instead of government by crisis
Government unresponsive to the needs of the people
No one individual has authority - need for someone who can make decisions
No accountability - no representation
Lack of communication between/among boards and township committee
No historic understanding of needs of various civic groups and individuals
Need for a strong professional - town should be run like a business"
[BTW, we might observe that a representative, responsive government in a democracy cannot, by definition, be run like a business. A business is a dictatorship.]
Now, in 2003, a movement is reportedly afoot to petition for a public referendum concerning a change in Vernon's present form of government.
Evidently such a petition would need less than 400 signatures, owing to the low turnout in the last (Nov. 2003) general election. The organizers are reportedly interested in a ward system.
The process of initiative and referendum - "direct democracy" - is often the process invoked by unelected parties who want to undo the plans of duly elected officeholders.
Such initiatives usually target plans which involve the spending of public money. In today's climate of economic anxiety, the spectre of increased taxation has propelled the success of public initiatives intended to "put the brakes on government spending."
There is no more appropriate use of the initiative process than the right of the citizenry to vote on increased taxation.
In recent years , however, successful "no more spending " initiatives have led to paralyzing budget deficits and the need to seek additional funding for essential services.
It happens that, once their local government's budget is flatlined, few middle-class taxpayers actually want a future of vanishing public services and a deteriorating civil society.
This eventually gives rise to a series of contradictory "special subject" initiatives and funding propositions which will effectively negate the previous "taxpayer savings."
There is another option : an advisory referendum or initiative, which vests the public with the authority to decide policy issues and directs their elected public officials to act on the details of the policy. The public questions follow a form of asking if voters generally support a certain policy goal.
In Vernon, for instance, an example of a policy issue might be any one of these: a change to a ward system of government; creation of a town commercial center; creation of a performing arts center; a moratorium on residential housing development; creation of a natural resources department; creation of a municipal sewer system. Etc...
How the policy goal will be accomplished and at what cost are considerations relegated to the elected representatives of the people acting under their mandate.
This advisory option avoids burdening the public with the task of wrestling with specific constitutional or statutory language. It mitigates the problems of the contradictions and unintended consequences so often accompanying initiative petitions in their current form.
It would be false, however, to conclude that there are no obstacles or problems with the implementation of an advisory referendum system. For instance, that which is a "principle" for one individual is a detail for others. And a principle can be so generally stated that it simply cannot be opposed (who will argue against "Clean Water" or " Improved Education"?). Without doubt, boundaries would have to be drawn, guidelines published, independent review assured.
The purpose of initiative and referendum is to improve the role of public opinion in the development of sound public policy. It should not be abused for the purpose of avoiding (or eclipsing ) a public process of the first magnitude, namely the election of sound public policymakers.
Participating in that greater process is every citizen's obligation in a democracy. Electing one's government representatives is a power indeed.
The only abuse of that power is the failure to use it.
Dangerous encounters hereabouts, involving nervy bears and terrorized humans. Such encounters are no longer a rarity.
What is to be done?
Some folks want a bear hunt, arguing that this traditional method will reduce the bear population to a saner level.
Other folks can't see it, either because they oppose killing any kind of wildlife, or because they think the bear population statistics and the threat to humans are exaggerated, or because they think humans, not bears, are entirely to blame.
Or because they just don't think a hunt will mean fewer "backyard" bears, and may not reduce the bear population at all.
For humans, whatever the outcome of the bear hunt controversy, bears are a clear and present danger in any backyard encounter. It is often gratuitously pointed out that bears are omnivorous, but the fact remains that they are the largest creatures of the order Carnivora.
They are meat eaters.
It might be argued that those who attempt to trivialize the human fear of being maimed or killed by a 400 lb. bear, or who try to dismiss the recent bear incidents as "hype," have no respect for a bear's physical capabilities - nor any sympathetic understanding of why humans can become dangerously excited when large, hungry carnivores heave into view.
The current procedure for dealing with aggressive bears, a clear emergency when the bear has broken down (or is about to break down ) one's door, is to repair to a position of safety and call the town police for help. It is a procedure whose effectiveness depends on the ability of police to respond immediately. The police will either see to the bear's removal or will shoot it, depending on the case.
Judging by recent incidents, however, an immediate response by police is not always possible. This is most keenly felt in the townships of Vernon and West Milford, bordering Wawayanda State Park, a forest which has for 15 years been a relocation area (and consequently a protected breeding ground) for troublous bears removed from other locations statewide.
Residential communities surrounding Wawayanda have been transformed, within recent memory, from "country" to "bear country" - a shift which was not foreseen by local governments, police departments and planning boards.
Scientific control of the bear population and its impact on the entire forest community would, after all, seem to be the proper business of the NJ Dept. of Environmental Protection. Evidently DEP's bear control plan amounted to little more than the creation of a protected bear nursery in the local state park.
Given their present and ever-increasing bear populations, and the mounting incidents of bear "home intrusions," each of the affected towns' police departments would probably need to detail more officers to "bear duty" than they now have on the charts, especially during months of heightened bear activity.
But most towns are ill disposed towards paying for more police, much less police overtime, and police manpower is already spread thin - never moreso than in warm weather, a season of heightened activity among misbehaving humans as well as among rambunctious, hungry bears.
The state must now correct the bear overpopulation problems its park and wildlife management policies have created (problems which might actually be exacerbated by a bear hunt, but more on that later).
Meanwhile local police are doing the best they can to keep up with the "bear call" caseload. But a time may come when it is not possible for a frantic caller, or family members and pets in a home under imminent "bear seige", to be safe in a secure location while awaiting the eventual arrival of police rescuers and wildlife biologists. Such a seige could, God forbid, end very badly for the humans involved.
It will not do to dismiss the possibility of such a dreadful occurrence, or to insist that the human victims "brought it on themselves."
Bear protection groups tend to scrutinize every reported bear incident for signs of human misdeeds, like failing to make every door and window airtight in summer when preparing and cooking food in the kitchen. Evidently the greatest human misdeed, apart from presuming to value humans more than bears, is failure to prevent all possible bear access to human refuse. Homeowners in "bear country" will, sooner or later, probably be required by law to purchase expensive, state-certified bearproof garbage cans for household use. Reports of bears frustrated by bearproof garbage containers are duly noted, and it would seem obvious that bearproof garbage cans would avail a conscientious homeowner nothing if the neighbors did not follow suit.
Bears are very determined problem-solvers, however. They may carry off your bear-proof garbage container for further study once they have picknicked on more accessible fare , e.g, the contents of a 30-gallon plastic bag plucked from one of the neighbors' bungee-corded, ammonia-soaked Rubbermaid Roughneck containers, on garbage day.
The bear protection groups will tell you it's still your fault: you should have ratted those neighbors out to the police for attracting the bears with that low-rent garbage can.
A popular bumper sticker, distributed by NJ Div. Of Parks & Forestry, says, "If You Really Care, Don't Feed The Bears," and is illustrated by the image of a rather large bear with its paw sunk into a garbage can. Alas, the first of that bear's most memorable garbage can feasts was probably in the protected groves of the local state park. Thereafter, to that bear, garbage cans will always hold the promise of hearty meals.
Bears do not soon forget a source of easy pickings.
It is becoming well nigh impossible to prevent wildlife access to all human refuse, even if all the garbage cans of all households are built to withstand nuclear attack and are battened down in concrete, underground mini-bunkers at curbside moments before collection.
Bears will still return like clockwork to a human neighborhood, there to scavenge for tasty morsels.
There were ,and probably still are, idiots who made things worse for their neighborhoods by deliberately ( and now illegally) setting out treats to feed the bears, deer, raccoons, feral cats, etc.. To the horror of the present occupants, a female bear may lead her cubs right up the front steps to test the screen door of a dwelling which was occupied by "bear feeders" in previous years.
But the fact is, idiotic "bear feeders" aside, most households - to say nothing of retail establishments- put out such tremendous amounts garbage that bears and other wildlife will always find hearty meals, day and night, in a human neighborhood. Consider for a moment the large dumpsters (jumbo-sized "bear feeders," as it were) provided by private carters for the use of their commercial customers. Such dumpsters are the bears' neighborhood fast food joints.
Bears will probably not forsake their backyard itineraries as long as they detect food sources aplenty in human habitats.
Households and food shops will probably not stop generating the accustomed volume of garbage, nor can they be expected to cook under airtight conditions at all times from March to November.
Families will not keep children and pets locked indoors all summer, although in some "bear country" neighborhoods it has almost come to that.
NJ banned bear hunting 15 years ago, and by now the state's bear population has risen to record levels even as the human rise in population (and garbage) continued apace.
In the end, those years of no-hunt protection, and of being corralled into parks like Wawayanda, may have set the bears up for the kill. If the proposed December bear hunt takes place it will probably be the first in a series of bear kills ("harvests") meant to reduce the bear population and, ostensibly, to "teach bears to fear humans again." DEP does not appear to be interested in a program of scientific management and control of wildlife populations as an alternative to hunting. Such programs are viewed as money hoses. It is cheaper to turn the state bear nurseries into bullet parks a few times a year, selling licenses to hunt bears in the woods, than it is to reduce the bear population by non-lethal methods.
Besides a bear hunt, and urging human behavior modifications like using bearproof garbage cans and cooking under airtight conditions, and printing more bumper stickers and leaflets to "educate the public" about Living With The Bears, and exhorting the public to snitch on suspected "bear feeders" to the police, what else is to be done by the State of NJ?
Not much, so long as hunters will pay the state for licenses to hunt bears, a volunteer solution which not only purports to spare taxpayers any added expense but will actually generate revenue for the state (always a political plus in NJ, where Tax Cuts are the sine qua non of human existence).
Hunting, trapping and fishing licenses pay the salaries and benefits of Fish, Game and Wildlife employees. Thus it would appear that F,G&W has an interest in supplying game to its paying customers (i.e.,recreational hunters).
Deer hunting licenses have not translated into a reduction of the state's deer population, however. On the contrary, the number of deer (and deer/auto collisions) in NJ communities has steadily increased despite any number of "reduction culls" or "harvests."
Herds of deer now traverse the Garden State in record numbers.
The deer overpopulation has boosted the rate of auto/deer collisions to such an extent that some NJ towns have hired private firms - mercenary deer hunters, as it were - in desperate campaigns to exterminate the deer.
By and large, the "hired sharpshooter" campaigns have been an expensive failure.
Like the deer, the bears would probably respond to hunting pressure by reproducing all the more. If so, the proposed bear hunt will be the deer hunt failure all over again, defeating the stated purpose by eventually increasing, not reducing, the bear population in NJ. Although the past findings of experienced professional wildlife managers appear to forecast this ironic outcome, no power on earth will diminish the zeal of bear hunting advocates.
Just as no power on earth will persuade bear protection groups that the "bear problem" is not merely a construct of human overreaction, untidiness, and incorrect garbage disposal.
Every "backyard bear attack" makes headlines and intensifies the public clamor for a bear hunt, which in turn activates the bear protection groups to oppose a bear hunt.
The current state policy calls for officers in local police departments to deal with "problem bears," a task added to their many other duties. All things considered, they have done well. Will NJ residents realize what a conscientious job those officers have been doing (in spite of difficult circumstances) to protect the public against aggressive "backyard bears," and what a shame it is that the policy was never given a better chance to succeed?
On July 7, 1998, VWeb ran a little news story entitled "Coming Soon - No Phone Lines Required For 'Net or Voice Communication."
On April 19, 2003, we came upon an article in usatoday.com's Tech News entitled "High-speed Net coming to a plug near you?"
Take a look at both stories - and draw your own conclusions as to why the development of this consumer-friendly, inexpensive technology is proceeding at such a glacial pace in the U.S.
Abraham Lincoln has been more written about than any other political personage in history,
but our guess is that many of today's political movers and shakers would not even associate with him.
After all, Lincoln was a self-educated man, and - although the nation was swept by tidal waves of religious revival throughout his lifetime - he never joined any church.
He did not hunt, drink, gamble or use tobacco.
In fact, he rejected just about every behavior which typified American men in the U.S. frontier culture from which he sprang.
He read incessantly, thought for himself, and trusted his own judgement. Having no formal "schooling" to mold his views, he was not only an astute politician but an extraordinary thinker on moral-political subjects, relying on logical arguments and thorough research to persuade listeners. Few would question his stunning intellectual power and moral example.
Try to imagine any politician today, Republican or Democrat, telling the public:
"Upon the subject of education, not presuming to dictate any plan or system respecting it, I can only say that I view it as the most important subject which we as a people can be engaged in."
-- Abraham Lincoln, March 9, 1832 - First Political Announcement
"That I am not a member of any Christian Church, is true; but I have never denied the truth of the Scriptures; and I have never spoken with intentional disrespect of religion in general, or any denomination of Christians in particular."
Abraham Lincoln, July 31, 1846 - Handbill Replying to Charges of Infidelity
Just think what those two comments would do to his "approval ratings" in today's political climate.
And here's the kind of thing that would clear a room at any political fund-raiser in 2003:
"It has indeed been a trying hour for the Republic; but I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. As a result of the war, corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working on the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands, and the Republic is destroyed. I feel at this moment more anxiety for the safety of my country than ever before, even in the midst of war."
- Abraham Lincoln in a letter to William F. Elkins, Nov 21st, 1864
This nation couldn't get much more devided and steeped in prejudices than it was in Lincoln's time, nor could the press have been more corrupt and scurrilous.
But Lincoln went on to accomplish great things as president because he expected great things - even impossible things - of his countrymen.
That expectation is the hallmark of all great political leaders.
Lincoln's combination of moral principle, intellectual power, and practical politics is exceedingly rare. A responsible realist, Lincoln was a professional politician who, to his dying day, never compromised his core beliefs while responding to the pressure of military events or attending to no end of policy issues great and small.
The contemporary American's problem is not that there are too many professional politicians running for office, but that there are too few of them.
Today's politicians rely almost exclusively on the oldest propaganda device of all: say something loud enough, and frequently enough, and a good many people will believe it is true. Such politicians are indebted to P.T. Barnum, not to Abraham Lincoln.
But the people of this nation have, since colonial times, prided themselves on their Common Sense. We are a nation of problem solvers who, sooner or later, take it very ill if anyone or any political party sets out to destroy the citizens' respect for one another's opinions and constitutional rights.
When it comes to defending individual liberty and inalienable rights, true American patriots defer to no one.
On his 200th birthday, we dare not stop believing in Lincoln's ideal that great things, even impossible things, can be achieved by a government of the people, by the people, for the people.
"At what point shall we expect the approach of danger? By what means shall we fortify against it? Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant, to step the Ocean, and crush us at a blow? Never! All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest; with a Buonaparte for a commander, could not by force, take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years. At what point, then, is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide."
Abraham Lincoln, January 27, 1838 - Address Before the Young Men's Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois
Democracy ends when people stop believing in it.
Show of hands: how many are tired of the adjective "smart" being used to merchandize every overpriced, expensive gizmo on the shelves and every refried gov't program in the headlines? Smart cards, smart growth, smart boards, etc. etc.... Is this the dawning of the Smart Generation? Future (smart) historians will decide.
A proposal to create two new commercial tv channels, homage to John Waters and George Orwell respectively: the Pink Flamingo Network, to broadcast the vapid we'll-do-anything-to-get-on-tv "reality" shows, and the Protective Stupidity Network, to broadcast the politically manufactured talk/news shows.
The techno-career hype says that, as far as an anxious young American workforce is concerned, info-tech (I.T.) skills are the way to a rosy future.
So much for looking at job prospects in the rearview mirror...
On the road ahead, the future is not rosy for American info-techies. Hiring has slowed to a crawl - and salaries in many areas have taken a beating. A survey by the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) looked at IT layoffs and hiring in all companies, not just the high-tech sector (more than 90 percent of IT workers are employed by non-IT firms, according to ITAA). This study found that the number of IT layoffs dropped from 218,000 per month in calendar year 2001 to 116,000 per month from June 2001 to June 2002. Another study, conducted by outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, showed that telecommunications jobs accounted for nearly two-thirds of tech-sector layoffs in 2002, while the remaining third occurred in the electronics, computer and e-commerce industries.
So where are all the I.T. jobs?
The ITAA report noted that companies are doing less hiring. New hires fell from 2.1 million in calendar year 2001 to 1.6 million for the year ending June 2002.
With the falloff in demand for IT workers, salaries have either stalled or shrunk. Employees are no longer receiving performance increases or bonuses and, if they are hiring at all, companies are hiring at the midpoint of salary ranges rather than at the high end.
Certain skills that were in great demand during the late 1990s are going begging today, but according to the ITAA report, C++ and Java programmers, Oracle database administrators and SQL developers might still find work.
Web services, network management, help desk skills and security management might have some bright spots, but not so bright as they were a few years ago. Industry reports warn that not many skills can be called hot, not even security management. "That time is behind us," noted Diane Morello, vice president and research director at Gartner Group.
So what is before us?
With so many qualified professionals to choose among, many companies hiring IT workers are seeking qualities beyond specific technical skills. Smaller companies often want to hire generalists -- "a Jack or Jill of all trades," as John Challenger, CEO of outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, put it -- while offering specialists only short-term contract employment.
Diane Morello, who has interviewed many companies about their IT plans, said "no one is asking about recruitment or even retention."
If the U.S. economy recovers, IT employment and salaries are unlikely to reach levels seen between 1997 and 2000.
Here's the truth of the matter: many U.S. companies have discovered in the last few years that they can outsource development projects to offshore vendors, and this "offshoring" trend will intensify.
Morello pointed out that U.S. companies who want to make large-scale changes in their IT operations will not do it by training existing employees in the skills needed or by hiring new workers with the required skills.
Instead, they will outsource their development offshore.
That's where the cheap labor is. American workers have a selfish tendency to want a living wage and the protection of law, which makes them incompatible with the rest of the global economy workforce.
When the government - once known as the public sector - follows suit and hires offshore I.T. contractors, it should surprise no one who reads the newspapers.
Let us hope the gov't will be conscientious about investigating outsource contractors and their offshore ( that is to say, foreign) workers, whose earnings will be gladly provided by U.S. taxpayers.
Because hiring cheap offshore labor keeps taxes down, of course, and that is very important to Americans whose income prospects are in the rearview mirror .
Snow on the mountains, holidays, wintertime in Vernon - Be of Good Cheer!
Get out the recipe books, call the piano tuner (yikes, shoulda done that in November), lay in the baking supplies (Warwick Shoprite has King Arthur flour, btw), do the greeting cards, plan the holiday dinners, finish the craft projects, get the decoration boxes down from the attic,test the tree lights, find the lost Mannheim Steamroller cassette,get the skate blades sharpened,try to remember where you stashed the presents you bought back in August...and, as always, give generously in this season - show appreciation for good service, and help those whose want and hardships are most keenly felt at this time of year. Use those food bank donation slips in the supermarket. Include worthy orgs like the Harvest House soup kitchen on your gift list.
Changes...At the end of December, the Appalachian Coffee Shop on Rt. 94 will be closing. We'll miss that place.
We miss Someplace Special, too. And we miss Plain and Fancy, the little candy store in Highland Lakes where we bought our newspapers just about every day for the past twenty years or so.
For that matter, we missed the Book Nook and the Vernon Bootery (yes, newbies, there used to be a shoestore and a bookstore in Vernon) when they closed.
And the Library Bookmobile that used to come up the mountain...oh, well. Just so long as Mars and Camera Haven are still downtown.
We hasten to add that our admiration for the A&P makeover knows no bounds, the fabulous Dollar Plus store is beginning to look like the Woolworths this town never had, Burger King (even though we swore off all things Beef) and Dunkin Donuts are a reassuring presence, and in general the town has everything (except a movie theatre) a civilized person needs to sustain life.
The plans to make the old Firemen's Pond a centerpiece sound terrific, and we hear that several new businesses are waiting in the wings.
One thing has to be said - traffic conditions in Vernon and McAfee need serious attention from government planners. The number of traffic-evading routes has decreased in proportion to the number of cars on the road at all hours, not just on weekends and during commuter drivetimes.
This autumn proved once again that Vernon has a foliage season every bit as glorious as anywhere in New England. No offense to our cousins in Vermont, but the landscape is just generally more interesting hereabouts.
Plus it's critically important to be so near NYC at this time of year. Go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the American Museum of Natural History, the fabulous Planetarium/Rose Space Center, the shows, the concerts, the restaurants, the shopping...
Smaller Class Size...
At first blush , it would appear to be plain old common sense that smaller classroom sizes (i.e., fewer students per teacher) in the public schools would lead to significant improvements in student academic performance.
A great deal of public money has been invested in this smaller-classes concept over the last two decades, but the hoped-for significant improvements have not materialized.
On the contrary, reducing class sizes has been shown to produce only miniscule improvements (and even some reductions) in student academic performance. Legislators in various parts of the U.S. have spent billions on demonstration experiments, pilot projects and statewide initiatives which have failed to show that, particularly in the higher grades, students gained any academic benefit attributable to smaller class sizes.
In the Tennessee experiment (1985-89, $12 million), with 10,000 students participating, it was discovered that teachers rarely adapted their instructional styles to take advantage of smaller class sizes. In fact, even professional development programs did not help; regardless of smaller class size, teachers did not modify the way they taught or the amount of time they spent on individual instruction. Analysts also agreed that, regardless of class size, teacher's aides did not make any difference in students' academic performance.
The findings have been the same in the Wisconsin program (1996-2001,$103 billion), with 64,000 students participating, and in the California initiative (1996 - present, $5 billion), with 1.8 million students participating : very small, if any, academic performance advantages to students in smaller classrooms across the board.
Statistically, minority students' performance in the Tennessee small-class experiment, and in the Wisconin small-class program, improved by two-fifths to three-fifths of a standard deviation (as opposed to the statiscally typical score of about one standard deviation below nonminorities on standard tests). This would have some significance from a policy standpoint, but analysts caution that the data cannot be used to prove that the minuscule gains persist after a student has returned to regular-sized classes.
Of all the milestone class-size-reduction studies, the massive California initiative showed the smallest gains in student academic performance, and no greater gains for minorities.
The obvious benefits of smaller class size are, of course, less classroom noise and fewer disruptions- but these disciplinary benefits, however rightfully valued and esteemed by school administrators, parents, students and teachers, nevertheless do not translate into improved academic performance by students.
All analysts agreed: the idea that smaller class size means more individualized attention to students, and therefore better academic performance, is unfounded.
The fact remains that, despite billions spent on class size reduction experiments (often requiring new classroom construction and hiring of additional teachers, etc., etc.), no research has ever been done concerning the relationships among class size, instructional activities and achievement at various grade levels.
And no one has studied the relative costs of attracting better teachers as opposed to reducing class sizes.
Are better teachers out there? Of course. Could most school districts afford to hire them? Of course - if that's what their school officials set out to do."What little work has been done on teacher competence suggests that students perform better with teachers who have greater verbal ability and, at the secondary school level, better knowledge of their subject matter. Astoundingly, however, when choosing among applicants for teaching positions, school districts often do not select the candidates with the strongest academic backgrounds and the highest scores on aptitude tests. Rather, school officials tend to favor teachers who live nearby, graduated from local colleges and possess proved classroom management skills."( from "Does Class Size Matter?" Scientific American, Nov. 2001)
See Also: [The below link is to a 30-page .pdf file, so download requires Acrobat Reader]
Class Size and Student Achievement by Ronald G. Ehrenberg, Dominic J. Brewer, Adam Gamoran and J. Douglas Willms in Psychological Science in the Public Interest, Vol. 2, No.2, pp. 1-30
"There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about,
and that is not being talked about." --Oscar Wilde