Study after study confirms that students in smaller classes are more focused and have fewer behavioral problems than students in larger classes (a recent study in the Journal of Educational Psychology reports that small class size in elementary school raises the likelihood that kids will graduate from high school). In almost all cases, regardless of the ages of the students, smaller class sizes lead to better overall achievement.
That's why we all should be extremely concerned about North Carolina's plan to add two students to each classroom in grades four through 12. Two students may not seem like many. But that, plus the proposed cuts to personnel (including teachers' assistants, assistant principals and counselors), results in both increased class size and decreased teacher-to-student ratios (even though there may be only one teacher in the classroom, ratios are based on all personnel who work with students at a school).
"We've been striving for years to decrease the numbers of students in our classrooms," says Anna Austin, president of the Buncombe County Association of Educators. "Because we know that more one-on-one instruction from teachers impacts the success of our students."
Many of you already are showing your concern about these draconian cuts by showing up at rallies, writing letters, signing petitions and calling state legislators. But more of us need to dive into the churning waters of state budget policy to protect education and our kids' future.
As an Asheville City Schools parent, I noticed problems when my daughter's class size increased from 19 kids in third grade to 23 in fourth grade. Additionally, there was only one part-time assistant teacher, shared among three classrooms.
The results I saw (and those reported by my fourth grader) affected the quality of her education and that of her classmates. Teachers had less time for more students. In other words, the one-on-one time deemed necessary by educational researchers decreased for many students. Behavioral problems increased. When a teacher's in the hallway talking to a student who's been misbehaving, she's not teaching — only one kid's getting her attention, and not for the right reasons. No teacher should have to spend 40 percent of his time dealing with 2 percent of his students (yes, I made up those statistics, based on hearsay, but I'm actually downplaying what I've heard). So the state says, "Let's add another 2 percent to each class." Do we really want to experiment with our kids' educations?
"We've been working for years to establish smaller class sizes, and now we're going in the opposite direction," Austin says. She notes that in 2003, all Buncombe County and Asheville City Schools classrooms were reduced by two students —again because research shows higher achievement levels and better outcomes when class sizes are decreased.
Increasing the number of kids in already crowded classrooms harms all of us. Whether you have kid(s) in the public schools, you pay taxes to support the schools. You can moan about it, but you know that supporting the future of this country by giving our children the highest quality education is essential.
"So many citizens are getting involved," Austin says. "This is so much larger than educators and parents."
Hurrah, citizens! Let's keep it up. Already caving to pressure, legislators have conceded that increasing class sizes for grades K-3 is a lousy idea, and they've redistributed cash back into that budget line item (the state's trying to create a budget given a projected $4.5 billion shortfall — clearly not an easy task).
I understand that we're in a recession. I get that it means there's less cash flowing into state coffers, so budget cuts are needed. I get it.
I'm not sure what the solutions are — but I'm guessing there are solutions if legislators can be creative, and if we're all willing to accept another pinch elsewhere. But don't keep pinching the fat-free flesh off poor Jack Sprat. Education's not a luxury. It's a necessity.
Penalizing our kids by increasing their class size equals bad juju. Juju that will come back and bite us all on our hindquarters.
Anne Fitten "Edgy Mama" Glenn writes about a number of subjects, including parenting, at www.edgymama.com.
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