Crowding out quality?
Here is one of the educationrelated questions that some prominent (but not necessarily visionary) Texas legislators already are eager to tackle: How many fiveyearolds can we squeeze into one classroom?
Their likely answer? More than we should.
One of the first classroom quality factors (and it won’t be the last) that will be targeted next year by the Legislature’s budgetary meat ax is the 221 class size limit for kindergarten through the 4th grade. It has been the law in Texas since 1984 and is widely viewed as important to the learning environment in the primary grades. But the legislative majority is likely to remove it, and they will be aided and abetted by school boards and superintendents who should know better but have been compromised by insufficient state revenue.
It will be easier, after all, for these lawmakers to dangle the promise of “local control” rather than give school districts and their students what they really need – more state aid.
Districts already can seek waivers – and many do – from the 221 class limit if the cap poses a budgetary hardship. But some superintendents already are encouraging the Legislature to lift the cap entirely and open the door to more widespread classroom crowding. TSTA, for the record, strongly supports the cap.
One of the better pieces of research on the class size issue, the Student/Teacher Achievement Ratio, or STAR, project, conducted in Tennessee in the 1980s, found that children in smaller classes performed significantly better than kids in larger classes.
Opponents of 221 argue that this particular ratio isn’t necessarily magical, but they deny the reality that the smaller the class, the more a teacher has time to give each student some individual attention, which is particularly important in the primary grades. In that respect, 221 certainly is better than, say, 251, which is where some of the primary grade classes soon will be headed (or even higher) if the cap were lifted.
Class size limits, however, are under attack in many states, primarily because of budgetary problems. Some of the most extensive class size limits are in Florida, where voters considered them so important that they amended their state constitution eight years ago to include them. And, just last month, they defeated another constitutional amendment, backed by school administrators but successfully fought by school teachers, which would have loosened those caps. The Florida class limits are 18 students in kindergarten through third grade, 22 students in fourth through eighth grade and 25 in high school.
Now, guess what?
According to an Associated Press story published in today’s Education Week, more than half of Florida’s 67 school districts are violating the limits to some degree and could be fined by the state. More than 44,000 of the state’s 812,000plus public classrooms have too many kids.
Here is a link to the Education Week story:
Here is a link to the Tennessee class size study: