Coming from a family of doctors, [I was] going, “It’s clinical.” There’s going to be an answer because Philadelphia is just as bad as Detroit, just as bad as Washington D.C. It’s all a system. It’s very consistent, so immediately I go, “It’s working by rules, so what are the rules? How do we figure that out?”
How do you think your book can change things?
The hope for the book is going, “Hey, I don’t want anybody to say that there isn’t an answer right now.” There is an answer and it’s being implemented by many, many, many schools and they’re closing the gap: the KIPPs, the Uncommon Schools, Green Light Schools in California. Wherever it is, now there are school systems without a doubt that are closing the gap.
Why do you think education is such a compelling topic for so many people?
You know, anything to do with kids brings that out all of that in us. It’s anything to do with children...and it comes from a natural place. We want to protect and we feel ownership over children. If a child is crying over there, you and I are going to get up and go, “Are you alright?” We are going to immediately want to take care.
I do believe it’s from a good place that the heated part of it comes. We just have to … check that emotion for just a second and make this a research-based field. A data-based field. There is enough data over the last years. We are lucky to be where we are. Ten years ago, I couldn’t counter [with data] because it wasn’t a research-based field. Everybody has been doing the good work. Now we can benefit from all the documentation. It should become more like the medical field...It’s best practices.
One of the policies you advocate for is “smaller schools.” Why are smaller schools key but smaller classrooms aren’t?
It’s a fascinating answer. The small classroom size thing, you could write a book just on that, how we got to this confusion about that. First of all, it’s an intuitive one. If there’s less students, it’s better because one-on-one tutoring is so good. The closer we can get to one-on-one tutoring, that must be the answer. It’s a thing we believe in. So no matter what the data shows, the public opinion is heavily in that camp.
Everybody, the great majority of references to classroom size evidence is from this one study, which hasn’t been duplicated with that kind of effect, ever. [The Tennessee STAR study] appears to be been the best study because it had randomized control trials, all that stuff, but ultimately it’s never been duplicated in that capacity and there were so many things that they couldn’t account for.
[Smaller classrooms] are not part of the equation for closing the achievement gap. In fact, I don’t think any of the schools that are closing the achievement gap are using small classrooms as part of their criterion. It’s because it costs so much, it puts so much tax on the rest of all the other stuff that needs to be done. It doesn’t have the kind of impact that the [quality of the] teacher does and the other stuff does.