by Colleen Flaherty
Schools across the country are dealing with a growing issue that affects educators and students alike – class size.
As many school budgets are hurting, class sizes have increased. Now that Congress has failed to stop the reckless, across-the-board sequester cuts, many underfunded schools with increasing student populations will have to cut even more educators and force students into larger class sizes where learning will suffer.
Tina Leaton is a fifth grade teacher in Oregon who has felt firsthand the dramatic difference that a smaller class can make for her and her students.
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“This is the first year in about twelve years that my fifth grade class is less than 30. My class sizes have hovered in the neighborhood of 32. And in case you didn’t know, 33 is the straw that breaks the camel’s back in fifth grade.”
This year, Leaton was lucky enough to have only 26 students and has been grateful for all the things a smaller class affords.
I began the year feeling like this was a gift. I have time to talk directly to students and do a better job of building relationships and community. I have time to grade more papers at school rather than at home. I have time to pull students for an extra dose of one-on-one instruction. I have time.
Then as the first days of the year passed, I became frustrated with my initial feeling of this class size being a gift. I realized that this should not be seen as a gift. This kind of experience should be an expectation.
Many studies have shown that smaller class sizes improve academic achievement – students in smaller classes score higher on tests, receive better grades and exhibit improved attendance, especially for those students who need attention the most.
However, the massive sequester cuts will mean $3 billion cut from the federal education budget, meaning fewer teachers and Education Support Professionals to give kids the individual attention they need to succeed.
“If Congress does not understand my situation, it’s time for them to step inside a school into my reality, into the reality of my students, and into the reality of our public schools,” said Leaton. “We need to properly fund education. Our future depends on it.”
Linda Montoya is an elementary school teacher in Colorado. As her classes grow, so do the needs of her students.
“I have 28 students, 3 with special needs, many from dysfunctional families, and all in a small, overcrowded classroom.”
She currently has an Education Support Professional that assists in her classroom, but her school’s support staff is in danger of being cut. As it is, with two educators in the classroom, they are overwhelmed.
“With two adults, 28 students and very few resources, I was told to just be creative. Students are crammed in there, desk to desk with very little room for students to even move,” said Montoya. “I feel that students are falling behind. Discipline is taking most of the quality time away from learning, and individualized help is limited.”
Christine Malich has been a Maryland teacher for 40 years. She said that the last few years have been the most difficult in her career as the student-teacher ratio has increased. Malich now has classes with as many as 35 students in them.
“It is disheartening when there are children on one side of the room asking for help who are definitely engaged in their learning, but I am all the way on the other side trying to help kids who sincerely want to learn.” said Malich. “It’s sad, but there is no way I can help all of them.”
“If anything, we need to spend more to decrease class size. That would allow us to give the nurturing attention our children need.”