By Amanda Litvinov
The Washington Secretary of State got a very special delivery last week: petitions signed by more than 325,000 voters to reduce class sizes in K-12 public schools across the state. Thirty students—the size of the average class in a Washington school—helped deliver the boxes on July 2.
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Washington currently ranks 47th in the nation when it comes to the number of students per class.
Reducing class size is one of few evidence-based reforms known to increase student achievement. That’s why Class Size Counts and the Washington Education Association are leading the push to get Initiative 1351 on the ballot so that voters can have their say on the issue this fall. If the initiative passes, the legislature will be required to provide proper funding to reduce class sizes in public schools over a four-year period.
Desi Saylors, a middle school science teacher and mother of two, was a dedicated signature gatherer and advocate for I-1351.
“In my middle school classroom, I can have up to 35 kids in science lab,” said Saylors in remarks made outside the office of the secretary of state when the boxes were delivered. “Thirty-five teenagers with scalpels, just to put a visual in your brain.”
“By cramming so many kids in these classrooms, we are really robbing our children of a quality learning experience. Initiative 1351 finally gives every kid a quality education, no matter where they live or their economic background.”
I-1351 phases in class size reduction measures over four years, lowering class sizes for grades K-3 to 17 kids, and for grades 4-12, to 25 kids. High-poverty schools would have even lower class sizes.
A teacher’s ability to individualize instruction, provide timely feedback to students and families, and keep students actively engaged in learning activities is substantially increased with smaller class sizes. Students in smaller classes have shown improved attendance, greater academic growth, and higher scores on achievement tests; and students from disadvantaged groups experience two to three times the average gains of their peers.
Phyllis Campano, a special education teacher and Seattle Education Association Vice President, gathered 1,351 signatures.
“I had my class size increase after about two years after I started working in Seattle by about 20 percent, and in special education that’s a lot. It made a huge difference in how much the kids got, how much I could get to them, how much they could learn, how much I could present. I know how important this really is to our students all over the state,” said Campano.
If passed, there’s no question the measure will benefit students. The action has also raised educator morale.
“It was one of the biggest actions of solidarity that we’ve had in the state in a really long time,” said Campano. “It shows the legislature that we are serious about this and that we have the strength.”
“It’s been the teacher issue since I entered education 47 years ago, said retired educator Karen Laase. “I know this is what makes a difference for kids and for learning. It’s the right thing to do.
I’m excited that educators are finally standing up and telling other people what we need rather than relying on legislators to tell us what we need.”