There are about 3 million teachers and about 65 million students in America, or roughly 22 students per teacher. Since we know that only 75% of students graduate, there are probably more younger students than older students - so instead of an even distribution of 5 million students per grade (65/13, 13=#of grades from K-12), it's more likely that there are 3.5-4 million students in upper grades and 5.5-6m students in lower grades
Well, I attended a fascinating presentation as a follow-on to a conversation I had with Bob Watt almost a year and a half ago at I-LABS - the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences at the University of Washington. If you're ever in the area, and interested at all in early childhood learning and brain development - you need to know Pat Kuhl and Andrew Meltzoff the co-directors. These guys are something else - the work they're doing is world-renowned, and kicks butt.
I was there with a small group, and they were gracious enough to give us two hours, and patiently respond to all our questions. What I learned from I-LABS is how much proven science flies in the face of education convention in America.
For example - there is pretty much universal agreement backed by data that conclusively states that the brain is most receptive to learning new languages in its first two or three years of life. As the brain ages this ability diminishes rapidly - by the time you hit puberty it's really difficult, and by the time you've left your teens, it's just about over.
And yet, our schools start teaching a second language around grade 8 (age 14)!! Why bother? Why not make it easier and teach a second language when the child's brain can do it without any effort?
As you will read from my conversation with Bob, one of the most critical I-LABS insights is the extent to which personal interaction matters in early childhood learning. In a discussion with Pat and Andrew, there was conceptual agreement with the idea that the ratio of teachers to students should be much, much higher for younger students, and can be much lower for older students.
Going back to the data in the first paragraph, the incumbents and nay-sayers will argue that this is impractical, we can't afford the teachers we have, much less lowering the student-to-teacher ratio further!
What if we implemented something like the table to the right? By dramatically shifting the bias towards younger grades, we can keep the number of teachers constant, and explore "inhuman" (computer-based learning, games - 1:1 and massively multi-player games, etc.) approaches to learning support for older students.
If brain science tells us that this is a sensible approach, just as brain science tells us that we should learn languages sooner than later, then we should listen and change our approach to education to reflect the reality of how children learn.
I suppose the more productive question Pat and Andrew need to answer is how the brains of the adults in charge of education work, and what we need to do to make them see straight.