This is no time to retreat from (or whine about) timehonored educational reforms, but watch out for a lot of whining and proposed retreating when the Legislature convenes in January in the face of a huge revenue shortfall. Already being targeted in some legislative discussions is the important 22pupil limit on class sizes for kindergarten through the fourth grade.
Leading the charge against the 221 studentteacher ratio is state Sen. Dan Patrick of Houston, one of the Legislature’s most outspoken advocates of slashing and burning public services. Unfortunately, he will be aided and abetted by a number of budgetstrapped school superintendents, who should know better but have long considered 221 – despite its educational value – a pain in their administrative…uh, necks.
As reported by Terry Stutz in The Dallas Morning News today, Patrick contends that the 221 limit, enacted in 1984, is costing school districts “millions and millions of dollars” each year without any evidence that it boosts student achievement. Patrick, however, is wrong.
Districts that are too financially strapped to comply with 221 can apply to the Texas Education Agency for waivers, which are almost always automatically granted. Some 144 districts received waivers this year, allowing larger classes at 544 elementary schools, according to the newspaper.
And, there is a pretty large body of national – even international – research concluding that smaller class sizes are important to improving student achievement. And closer to home, the Texas Elementary Principals & Supervisors Association (TEPSA) has done research strongly indicating that 221 has been a positive factor in student and school performances in Texas.
According to TEPSA, the number of class size waivers granted in 20072008 per campus was in direct inverse proportion to the state accountability rating of that campus. In other words, the higher rated campuses received fewer waivers to the class size requirement. TEPSA derived its findings from the TEA Regional and District Level Report to the 2009 Legislature.
Only about 10 percent of “exemplary” campuses asked for and received waivers allowing larger class sizes, compared to 40 percent of lowerranked “recognized” campuses and 50 percent of the even lowerranked “academically acceptable” campuses. Those figures are sending a pretty loud message that legislators – and superintendents – should be listening to.
Superintendents and school board members who feel that 221 is an unrealistic financial burden for local taxpayers can gut up and continue to ask for waivers. That is what they are paid and/or elected to do. Unfortunately, they would rather let the Legislature take the heat from parents, who like the smaller class sizes.
Patrick is proposing that 221 be replaced with an asyetundetermined average class size limit for elementary schools, a proposal that has been supported by superintendent and school board lobby groups in the past. Sen. Florence Shapiro, R Plano, and Rep. Rob Eissler, RThe Woodlands, the Legislature’s education chairs, also seem open to the change. All three lawmakers are members of an interim HouseSenate committee studying school finance.
Here is a link to The Dallas Morning News story: