When considering cuts to our education budget it is important for elected officials to understand the assembly-line approach to learning has been abandoned. Dismantling the education system through severe cuts to funding has a cost to both the students and ultimately the taxpayer. Larger class sizes negatively impact the ability to deliver differentiated instruction leading to more students falling behind. Therefore, the cost of special education and remedial services will increase. Elected officials may think that they are making sound economic choices by increasing class sizes and cutting essential staff, yet in the long run, these will prove to be costly mistakes.
The days of a prescribed curriculum in a prescribed period of time for all students at a given age is in the past. In the past the assumption was the students should fit the curriculum. Currently the curriculum is designed to fit each student. Grade level classrooms did not eliminate learning variability that occurs in each student. Yet they offered the illusion that all 7 year olds were all alike and could be taught as a pack rather than more individually. The assembly-line approach to learning falsely assumes that all children will do the same work, using the same materials and starting and ending at the same time.
The one size fits all curriculum has been a misfit for too many children. The modern classroom is one that adjusts instruction based on the varying needs of a diverse set of learners. Individual children and groups of students can work on different tasks, for different lengths of time using different materials and different working parameters. Students with identified disabilities are growing and their presence in regular education classrooms is the new reality. Approximately 10% of students are identified as special education (receiving specialized instruction) and a number of these students spend a substantial portion of their day in the regular education classroom. An additional 20% of students are receiving intensive support through the intervention process. Research indicates improved student engagement, behavior, and achievement when classroom instruction addresses student readiness and learning styles separately and in a unified set of classroom instruction (Tomlinson et al., 2003; Tomlinson, Briijoin, & Narvaez, 2008; Tolinson & McTighe, 2006).
Teachers are required to differentiate instruction based on student need. In a differentiated classroom each student is working at a point a bit beyond the students reach. A student at any point must continually have the confidence that there will be support as they navigate the unknown. The role of the classroom teacher is to hold high academic expectations and provide the necessary support for all students to achieve those goals. Children vary in current knowledge, understanding, and skill as they relate to curriculum content. Classrooms need to be flexible with materials, space, student groupings and support mechanisms. This also includes support for children who can work at an advanced level of independence and students who need a great deal of individual support. Additionally, No Child Left Behind requires that all students meet stringent academic requirements on standardized tests. Since learning does not occur at equal rates for all, children need individual attention that only comes with reasonable class sizes and appropriate staffing.
The education budget needs to fit with how teaching and learning have changed. Paper and pencil multiple choice tests have been replaced with a full and diverse curriculum of problem identification, critical thinking, creativity, and problem solving with high levels of literacy, numeracy, and scientific knowledge.