03/06/2013 03:47 pm ET Updated May 06, 2013

Chicago Public Schools Thinks 40 Students in a Class Is OK

Illinois State Superintendent of Education Chris Koch wants to repeal class size limits for special education students. This policy change runs counter to the prevailing research that shows class size truly does matter. Koch stated, "Class size is an issue that is best addressed locally."

Although I am a proponent of democratic local control of schools, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) is not a system that trusts its communities to run schools and undercuts the only democratically elected body over schools governance -- the Local School Councils (LSCs). I doubt that Koch consulted LSC leaders before making this claim.

What would local control of class sizes look like in Chicago?

Chicago Public Schools Communications Director Becky Carroll recently told the Chicago Tribune:

... big classes don't necessarily hamper learning.

"It's the quality of teaching in that classroom," Carroll said. "You could have a teacher that is high-quality that could take 40 kids in a class and help them succeed."

Now having studied curriculum, instruction, and education policy, I have yet to come across any study that would substantiate her claim that 40 students in a classroom is OK.

The most comprehensive study of class size, The Tennessee Study of Class Size in the Early School Grades showed a considerable advantage to students who had small class sizes in early grades. Students in poor districts benefited the most.

Eliminating class size requirements for districts will be disastrous. If the goal is improving teaching and learning, class size caps must remain. If the goal is destabilizing the public schools to make way for more charter schools, CPS is using an effective strategy. CPS specifically has a problem with assessing its own capacity to make sweeping policy changes.

CPS recently set a commission to task with assessing school closings in Chicago:

The commission on school closings has told Chicago Public Schools officials that shutting a large number of schools would create too much upheaval, and that it is leaning toward a recommendation for closing far fewer schools than many have feared -- possibly as few as 15, sources said.

In spite of this study, Carroll stated that CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett would make her decisions on school closings regardless of these facts: "'She's made it very clear -- this is her decision to make,' Carroll said. 'The final recommendations made to the board will be a decision she will make and own.'"

129 schools remain on the school closing hit list.

Eliminating regulations requires a great deal of trust in local decision makers. CPS time and time again has shown that it makes decisions that run counter to what is good for students based on politics.

CPS should change its motto from "Children First" to "Spin to Win."