It seems that I have been buried in email for the past week. I am trying to keep up and respond to every email, but it is exhausting.
Many parents and staff are upset about the current proposals on the table. I understand that it is difficult to accept. It is especially hard when it impacts your own child. I get that.
I value all of the amazing work of teacher librarians and library staff. They are hub of the elementary school, they enrich literacy and add so many other important skills.
Given all of that, I am more concerned about the combination of the proposed library cuts and the proposed .5 increase in class size at the elementary level. The combination of the two is a double-cut to elementary schools and I think it is too much.
Plus, the class size increase creates too much inequity in sizes across the district. In one set of grades (5th/6th), class sizes are going to range from 20 students in a classroom to 31 students in a classroom. I recently asked the question at a work session, “how can we think that is fair?” I was told that there is more research that says the quality of the teacher has more of an impact than the size of the class on achievement.
I can agree with that to a degree, but we can’t say that all teachers in our district are the same either. And, I think that a class of 20 (11/12-year olds) is different that a class of 31 (11/12-year olds). And,lets look at all of the other factors like physical environment (Van Allen v. Longfellow), the number of IEP’s in the classroom, the proficiency percentages, or the number of integrated special education students (they are not included in the class size but spend time in the classroom for integrated subjects) which can impact space if nothing else.
After long discussions (which always leads to more questions), I think that we have to re-examine the way that we are approaching class size. It seems that if we are really going to do what is right and what will impact achievement, than we need to look at other factors for classroom when determining class size.
I would like to start with percentages of proficiency and the number of IEP’s. We talk about the importance of differentiated instruction in the classroom for student achievement and to address proficiency, but at the next level up we stop all differentiation and uniformly assign class size. That doesn’t make sense to me, we should differentiate at the next level also.
We know that when there are a large number of students in a classroom that are not proficient, one of the best interventions is small group work. That is what reading recovery and Title I interventions are all about. But once students are in the upper elementary grades, we make the class sizes bigger so they have less opportunity for the small group work and there are less opportunities for outside of classroom support. What happens for the students that aren’t yet proficient?
And what about the GAP schools? We have identified and invested time in identifying the schools where we are trying to close the achievement gap with interventions, strategies and by developing Professional Learning Communities. All of this is based on best practices developed to address achievement. We aren’t considering that in class size either. The teachers in these buildings are working extra hard through all of this, so I don’t think that we can say their classrooms are the same as classrooms at schools whose proficiency is at higher percentages.
I think it is time to admit that our classrooms across the district in elementary are not the same and by applying the same ratio for class size, we aren’t addressing the issues and we aren’t doing what is right.