August 25, 2022

Mercedes Schneider: Yep. Class Size Matters.

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Mercedes Schneider reports from her classroom on the problems of overcrowding and what every teacher already knows–class size matters. Reposted with permission.

When it comes to the number of students in a K12 classroom, size matters.

This is not a new revelation for me but a fresh one after last school year, when I had the largest class sizes ever for the first semester of 2021-22 in my senior English classes: 28-30 students to kick off the year.

To accomodate so many students in my room (which is a good size and has no bookcases along the walls), I had to swich to smaller desks, which made the 53-minute experience each day similar to flying economy class for my students’ physical discomfort.

Desk number 30 had to be moved to the side and taken out only during my 4th period because that lucky student protruded into the walkway in front of the door. Fortunately, our helpful senior counselor was able to shift a student schedule so that 30 became 29, and in another class, 28 became 27.

I workshop writing with my students, which means I consult individually with each student multiple times if necessary for writing assignments, especially when working on seniors’ major research paper.

With 27, 28, 29 students in a class, I was not at my best as a teacher, not because I was not trying, but because I was spread too thin.

I did not teach as well. There was no professional development that could have helped me. No professional consultation, or study.

I had too many students.

Nevertheless, according to Louisiana’s education law, Title 28, Section CXV-913 – Class Size and Ratios, I could have had larger classes– up to 33 students per class in my high school classroom:

A. The maximum enrollment in a class or section in grades K-3 shall be 26 students and in grades 4-12, 33 students, except in certain activity types of classes in which the teaching approach and the materials and equipment are appropriate for large groups.

B. No teachers at the secondary level shall instruct more than 750 student hours per week, except those who teach the activity classes. (1. When a number of staff members are involved in a cooperative teaching project, the amount of each person’s involved time may be counted in computing the individual teacher’s load.)

C. The maximum class size for health and physical education in grades K-8 and in physical education I and II shall be 40. No class may be combined with physical education I or II if the total number of students taught is more than 40.

D. The system-wide, student classroom teacher ratio in grades K-3 shall be a maximum of 20 students to one classroom teacher. (1. An LEA may request a waiver of this requirement from the state superintendent of education provided that the teacher has demonstrated effectiveness as defined by BESE in Bulletin 130-Regulations for the Evaluation and Assessment of School Personnel.)

NOTE: Refer to Bulletin 1706-Regulations for Implementation of the Children with Exceptionalities Act for pupil/teacher ratios for special education.

La. Admin. Code tit. 28, § CXV-913

Pack ’em in.

You would think that lawmakers would stop and consider what they are really asking teachers to do by setting those state maximums so high. Effective, individualized instruction becomes a farce even before the max is reached.

For me, this year has begun better.

We are only a week into the 2022-23 school year, but so far, my class sizes are considerbly smaller than last year: 20 to 21 students per class.

A refreshing contrast to last fall.

I can successfully workshop writing with 20 to 21 students per class. With such class sizes, I can devote quality time to help my students improve their writing. If the numbers hold steady, in 2022-23, I will not be spread too thin.

Many thanks to my colleague and senior counselor who has helped balance my class sizes.

Based on my experience, 23 students in a class is the point at which I struggle to help each student with writing. It would be nice if the state took such information from seasoned teachers into consideration when determining maximum class sizes.

Thirty-three students would not even fit into my room, but if they did, my teaching would be diluted, and my seniors would pay the price with a substandard education that has nothing to do with my professional capabilities.

If lawmakers and other officials want Louisiana students to learn to write well, setting class size maximums with successful teaching and learning in mind is a good place to begin.

Admin, just say no.
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