As budgets grow smaller for school districts around the country, classroom sizes continue to grow larger in many areas. While increasing the size of a classroom can be an effective way for penny-pinching school districts to save a significant amount of money, parents and educators alike are concerned about the impact of larger classrooms on the learning environment and the quality of education overall. Do larger classrooms really translate to a lower standard of learning? This article takes a look at some of the school districts forced to consider this difficult decision, as well as data regarding student performance in larger classes.
Spokane Increasing Class Sizes, to the Concern of Parents and Teachers
Washington has one of the largest average classroom sizes in the country today, but this state may be forced to increase classes once again in some areas if they are going to balance tight budgets. According to a report at the Spokesman-Review, the Spokane Public Schools board of directors recently voted to increase the size of classes as a way to deal with a potential budget crisis. The move could save the school district between $9 and $12 million, but not everyone is pleased about the idea.
Cindy Simonson, a third-grade teacher in the district, told the Spokesman, "We do character education, but we were trained to teach academic material. It's sort of incomprehensible about how you are going to do it [with more kids]. You want to be there for those kids, that's the thing. That's the job. There's no way you're going to give up, but sometimes you are just tired."
Currently, classroom sizes in Spokane are set at 25 for K-3, 28 for grades 4-6, and 30 for grades 7-12. With the new proposal on the table, each classroom size could increase by up to three children.
Simonson continues, "As it is right now, I cannot get around to each kid every day to listen to them read. You maybe get to read with five kids every day. I won't be able to get around to every kid in a week. When I look at the math, I won't be able to get around to as many groups or work on as much math remediation with students. It's not just three more bodies; it's three more math papers, three more tests to give, three more parent conferences to have; it's amazing how much more work it adds."
In this video, teachers take time to discuss how small class sizes make big differences in their classrooms.
Aurora Schools in Colorado Considering Larger Classrooms
An article at the Denver Post reports that Aurora Public Schools in Colorado are also considering an increase in class size to make ends meet. The school district estimates that adding three students to each classroom could save the district as much as $11 million during the next school year. With a possible $25 million shortfall facing them, that $11 million could be a significant step in the right fiscal direction. However, the teachers union states that this decision would need to be negotiated during contract talks before it could become final.
New York Mayor Considering Removing Teachers for Bigger Classes
To deal with his own budget shortfalls, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is planning to fire as many as 6,000 teachers off the payroll, which translates to the removal of one out of every eight teachers in the city. While the layoffs may look good on paper in terms of balancing the budget, many New Yorkers are concerned about what the decision could do to already swelling classroom sizes. Some predict that the average class could increase from 24 to 29 students, depending on the grade level. Parents are complaining that this move is yet another slap in the face to a 2007 agreement that was supposed to cut class sizes across the board, according to a report in the Huffington Post.
In this TEDTalk, Mark Waller talks about the benefits of small class size.
Big School Districts, Bigger Classes
Detroit Public Schools are facing one of the biggest budget deficits in the country, as well as a mandate to implement a plan to eliminate the $327 million shortfall by 2014. To do so, the district is looking at closing 70 of its 142 schools, which could result in as many as 60 students in a high school class, according to a report at MSNBC. The Los Angeles Unified School District is already seeing more than 50 students in many of its high school classrooms, after laying off about 2,700 teachers over the past two years.
Dallas Independent School District may have to lay off as many as 3,800 teachers, while layoffs in the Houston Independent School District may raise the number of students in high school classrooms from 28 to as many as 40. Even Rhode Island is feeling the pinch, with the Providence, Rhode Island, school board considering layoffs of up to 1,900 teachers. Overall, up to 48 percent of school districts across the country were faced with the unpleasant task of letting teachers go and increasing class sizes over the past school year, and two-thirds are facing additional cuts for next year.
This video reports on school districts across the country facing tighter budgets with many are turning to larger classrooms as a cost saving measure.
The Impact of Larger Class Sizes
Despite the growing concern over larger classes, research on the issue has not resulted in specific conclusions regarding classroom size and learning environment. While some studies suggest children learn more effectively in smaller classes, test results around the country have not supported those claims. As school struggle to make ends meet, many may have no choice but to increase classes and hope for the best when it comes to student outcomes.
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