Class size issues are everywhere

We know that waiver requests to exceed the 22 student class size limit are way up. But that mandated limit is only for grades K through 4. What about higher grade levels? Patricia Kilday Hart reports that those classrooms are more crowded, too.

Lamar High Principal James McSwain estimates his classes are on average 8 to 10 students larger. Susan Kellner, Spring Branch ISD board president, says her district’s middle school classes have jumped in size – with as many as 35 students in one class.

At Bellaire, [Principal Tim] Salem trimmed as few teachers as possible, but that meant he had to cut other staff positions, like a school counselor. Counselors manage class schedules and meet with kids in crisis; they are also the one adult constant in a student’s high school career. “That’s their graduation compass,” Salem told me. Each Bellaire counselor now has a caseload of 450 to 500 students.

Salem said Bellaire has some classes with 40 and 41 students; math teacher Kathy Gardner told me she had a pre-AP geometry class that started the year with 43 students (though the class dwindled to 35 as students reacted to the workload.)

What’s it like in a classroom with that many teenagers?

“I can’t even walk between the desks,” U.S. history teacher Lori Good told me. “I’ve tripped on backpacks twice.”

The mantra of those who defend the budget cuts and minimize concerns about class sizes is that teacher quality matters more than the number of students. The problem is that at some point, even the best teachers can’t operate effectively. And some of them will decide that rather than have to deal with all this extra work for no extra pay, there must be a better deal for them elsewhere. Which means that the super-sized classrooms may have negative effects that last well past the point of a hoped-for future budgetary fix.

But before we can realistically hope for a budgetary fix, we need to make sure everyone understands what the problem is that needs to be fixed. This is a good start:

[T]he Spring Branch board president said she is hearing complaints from parents who are “worried that their children are going to get less attention.”

Those concerns should be directed at state lawmakers, many of whom argued that reducing per-student funding wouldn’t really alter life in a Texas public school.

“I tell parents to tell their legislators what it looks like in reality and not just in theory,” says Kellner. “This was a state decision.”

For Spring Branch, that would be State Rep. Dwayne Bohac, and he voted to create the problem. If you want it fixed, you should vote accordingly in 2012. If you live somewhere else, find out who your State Rep and State Senators are, and if they were part of the problem as well, make yourself and your vote part of the solution next year. Nothing will change until that happens.

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2 Responses to Class size issues are everywhere

  1. There is a tremendous difference between 25 and thirty five students in a class. I had thirty seven once in a high school class and have had other packed classrooms in high school, Jr. high, and middle school. If I was teaching the top 28 students in any certain grade it would be fairly easy in some ways but there are also some challenges because some students might already know the material and be bored. High performing students are ready to learn, usually have their supplies, and are a joy to teach. If I had the students in the bottom third or third group from the bottom in the same grade in the same school that had ten classes per grade it would include students just above special education but with some learning difficulties, disabilities, behavior problems at school, away from school, at home, and other problems I might not know about. There would likely be several disruptive students in the class that would keep me from doing an adequate job of teaching the rest of the class which is there to learn just as the top students are. In a heterogeneous class at the same school, all of the above would be in the class and it would be almost impossible or maybe impossible engage all of the students in learning. The number of students in the classroom is second only to the skill of the teacher to deal with a multitude of personalities with multiple and different learning needs. Even good teachers can be overwhelmed by large groups of students all day.

  2. I should have said ” to engage” but missed it in my proof reading.

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