Tuesday, September 24, 2013

40 is the new 30. #classsize

This was written by Jonathan Teghtmeyer who is with the Alberta Teachers` Association. Jonathan tweets here. This post first appeared on the Alberta Teachers` Association website.

Classes have started up for the new school year and up is the operative word, as in class sizes are up!

In 2002, if you had 30 students, that was a “large class.” At that time, teachers took labour action to protest, among other things, larger classes. Although teachers reported that their classes were becoming larger and increasingly unmanageable, the provincial government believed otherwise. However, the outcome of the labour dispute included a report from the Alberta Commission on Learning (ACL) that recommended class-size averages of 17 students for K–3, 23 for 4–6, 25 for 7–9 and 27 for 10–12. Teachers felt vindicated that the ACL, an impartial body, had concluded that classes with more than 30 students were too big for optimum learning.

What happened to those recommendations? Today, 40 is the new 30 (I want to thank Twitter user @RyanDunkley for this editorial’s headline). Last year, it was common to see a few classes at the high school level with between 38 and 41 students. That was last year, before the Alberta government cut school board budgets by $14.5 million and before 11,000 new students entered the public education system without any additional money to support them. What’s the story this year? In the first week of school, we’ve already heard about a number of high school classes with more than 40 students, and teachers at all grade levels are reporting classes that are unacceptably large.

The government shifted its class-size-initiative funding to focus on K–3 classes because that’s where smaller classes have the biggest impact, where the population increase is greatest and where school boards aren’t meeting their targets. Has that funding made a difference? Not really if we have parents saying their kids are the lucky ones because their kindergarten class size is only 24.

Alberta Education’s website features a page entitled “Class Size Is Important.” The page of information espouses the value of small classes in “laying a foundation for a positive learning environment for our students.” However, even though school boards are obligated to report annually on class-size averages, the government hasn’t updated its report since 2010/11. That school year, three-quarters of the boards exceeded the targets at the K–3 levels, and we know it’s worse today.

On the first day of school, Education Minister Jeff Johnson said he doesn’t believe we should have problems with class size. He said, somewhat incomprehensibly, “There should be more classroom teachersas a proportion of teachers out there” because “we put as much or moremoney into the base instruction and the class-size initiative.”

The minister’s comments are masterfully crafted talking points designed to hide the reality. More classroom teachers as a proportion of all teachers just means that cuts made in central offices were more severe—the truth is we have fewer teachers, fewer in the classroom and fewer in division offices. As much or more money in base instruction and class-size initiative hides the fact that school board grant cuts elsewhere will affect classroom conditions. Sure, some small grants got increases, but others were cut and the big ones stayed stagnant. At the end of the day, more kids and less money means larger classes.

If the minister believes that class size shouldn’t be a problem, perhaps teachers would do well to educate him on this matter. I suggest that you (and the parents of the students you teach) e-mail your stories about class sizes to Minister Johnson at Education.­Minister@gov.ab.ca.❚

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