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Black Swan in Potemkin Village

From the first federal achievement tests in 1970 to the present, student achievement charts have shown as level lines, with scores consistently in the low 200s out of a possible 500, against upward spending lines and downward class size lines. But now, as proof of the (simplistic) survivalist-politician-fear-of-voter-displeasure theory, a few states have begun sneaking minimum-class-size policies into their rule-books. So far, my amateurish research has found three: Tennessee, Missouri, and-surprise!-Vermont.

In earlier columns, I've reported on the Tennessee minimum class size policy-K-3, 20; 4-6, 25; 7-12, 30. You can judge its seriousness from the actual class size (shown as p/t ratio, which is close) in Tennessee: 14.3-to-1 in 2008.

In Missouri, the "guideline" calls for K-2, 25; 3-4, 27; 5-6, 30, and 7-12, 33. You can judge its seriousness from the actual class size (shown as p/t ratio, which is close) in Missouri: 13-to-1 in 2008.

Now, it turns out, Vermont's own state department of education actually adopted-on Sept. 8, 2010-a minimum class-size policy guideline.

It calls for no fewer than 15 students in all grades and grade-clusters from K to 8, and numbers ranging from 15 to 20 in various 9-12 curriculum areas. Were it (subjunctive contrary to fact) serious, it would cause a near 1/3 decrease in the direct-instruction component (60 percent) of the total school budget. Gloriosky, Zero; Who nnew? Maybe I missed the SED precedent-shattering policy-changing press release, or the subsequent breathless in-depth, deeply-analytical reportage-with-enlightened-commentary in the several VT papers I read.

As an amateur and not a full-time, highly skilled-professional Fourth Estater (and fearful of peer disapproval), I choose not to opinionate on the decisions of various Vermont media managers and editors not to report on that rare-and-unexpected statistically improbable "black swan" event in Vermont education: the official adoption of a state department of education minimum-class-size policy-guideline.

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