June 12, 2023

Paul Bowers: Teacher workloads keep growing in South Carolina

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Paul Bowers is a parent in South Carolina. The workload for teachers, he says, is getting worse.

Compared to 15 years ago, South Carolina public school teachers are doing more work, administering more tests with higher stakes, for wages that increasingly get eaten by inflation, under intensifying scrutiny from aggrieved political actors — and in many cases, they’re doing it with more students than ever.

The last time I looked into the growth of K-12 classroom sizes in my state was 2019, and the picture was bleak. While state regulations

set strict limits on student-teacher ratios in most types of classrooms, the state legislature had started granting waivers to those caps during the Great Recession and had not resumed enforcement.

Predictably, median classroom size soared as the state stopped funding its obligations to school districts, teachers’ promised pay increases were frozen, and teachers quit the profession faster than the colleges of education could graduate new ones. When I wrote about the trend for The Post and Courier in 2019, classroom sizes had begun to shrink but were still significantly larger than they were in the 2007-08 academic year.

I looked again this month. Things have gotten worse.

Across all school districts in South Carolina, median classroom size has grown by nearly 3 students, from 20.2 in 2008 to 23 in 2022. While state regulations cap most classroom sizes in middle and high school at 35 students, I found 2 middle schools and 26 high schools where the student-to-teacher ratio in core subject areas was above 35-to-1.

“It’s obscene what’s happening,” said Jamie Meissner, a fellow parent with 3 children attending elementary and middle schools in the Charleston County School District. I called her recently to talk about the practical problems associated with growing classrooms. She said her kids feel the pressure, too. All 3 have seen their teachers crying.

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