As Yoda might say: Always a lively debate, class size is. And that’s the topic of this week’s School of Thought Column at TIME. Listening to the debate about class size is like stepping into a time warp. The big issues about whether teacher effectiveness maters more, costs and benefits, and which populations really do need smaller classes are pretty settled yet a raging debate goes on thanks to a lot of advocacy. That matters as districts face some hard choices this year:
Budget cuts! Layoffs! Bigger classes! Oh my! Given the mini-Wisconsins erupting around the country, it’s not surprising that parents are worried about their children’s schools. At least 45 states will face some budget shortfall for the fiscal year that begins this July, according to The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Last week the school board of Providence, Rhode Island gave pink slips to the city’s entire teaching force. Rumors of class sizes as large as 60 students circulated in Detroit.
Reality check: There will be teachers teaching in Providence next year. Similar sky-is-falling scenarios will be averted in Detroit and elsewhere, too. But that doesn’t mean that there will not be fewer teachers—and larger classes—in many places when school opens this fall. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan may well be right that scarce resources will be the “new normal” for schools.