Class size negotiations fail

Student/Teacher ratio a growing issue in K-12 schools

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In the 2018 legislative session that ended Saturday, Mar. 3, lawmakers voted down a bill that would have added class size to contract negotiations for teachers. According to the staff summary on the State Legislature website, it was argued that the bill does not make any changes to the State School Fund nor does it adjust the distribution formula used to calculate funds provided to school districts for K-12.

On Feb. 27, the issue of class size reduction moved ahead in the House of Representatives. The House reviewed the proposal to add class size to contract negotiations between teachers and school districts.

Under the proposal, bargaining negotiations during contract renewals would be required to cover class sizes along with benefits like pay. Currently, teachers can ask for changes in class sizes, but often at the expense of asking for other benefits. This bill would have allowed for collective bargaining to include both class size and benefits.

Cat Frink / The Torch

The issue of class size is an old one, with statistics showing that as far back as 1955, there were issues with student-to-teacher ratios. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average student-to-teacher ratio has gone down nationwide. In 1955, the average ratio was 26.9 students per teacher. The national average has since gone down to 16.1 students per teacher as of 2017. Oregon, however, is much higher than the national average, with 21.9 students per teacher, according to a 2015 report by the NCES.

There are a few concerns associated with reducing class size. At the top of the list is the cost of instruction with teachers’ salaries and benefits being the most expensive element of a school budget. Another concern is space, as many schools do not have the room to add additional classrooms.

Randy Schild, superintendent of Tillamook School District, told lawmakers at the Feb. hearing that “Small districts without space to add classrooms would still end up increasing class sizes, and would likely end up choosing to pay teachers more in exchange for managing larger classes,” according to an article by the Associated Press.

In regard to concerns over the cost of education, Allison Kangail, a fourth-grade teacher at Laurel Elementary in Junction City, said, “I think schools and education are not made a priority in our state and also our country. It needs to be a larger priority. Everything stems from education, and I think students, teachers and schools aren’t given the funds and resources that they desperately need.”

Kangail added that class size is very important to her and her peers.

I have had classes at my last school in Virginia as small as 19 students and as large as 23 students. In Oregon, I haven’t had a class size smaller than 25 and my largest was 29. It has a huge impact on my students,” Kangail said.

Cesar Chavez, one of the top ranking schools in Eugene, according to SchoolDigger.com, a school ranking website, has one of the lowest student to teacher ratios in the area with an average of 18.7 students per classroom.

Haley Marsteiner, a mother of a first grader at Cesar Chavez, feels that the teachers do a good job of monitoring students. “When Eli misbehaves they have him call me from school to tell me what he did. If he mistreats his iPad they send home a note for him to write down his goals for taking better care of it. Of course, they do have volunteer mothers in the class, which helps,” Marsteiner said.

Jordanna McDowell, a resident of Springfield who has a son in Springfield Elementary, volunteers regularly in her son’s class because it is so big. She feels that it will benefit her son in the future and is hoping that it will also help other students.

The 1985 study conducted by four Tennessee State Universities is one of the most comprehensive studies done on this subject. Termed Project STAR (Student-Teacher Achievement Ratio), it spanned a four-year period in which results obtained in kindergarten, first, second and third-grade classrooms of 13 to 17 pupils were compared with those observed in classrooms of 22 to 25 pupils. In the larger classrooms studied, the teacher was assisted by a paid aid.

At the end of the four-year study, it was determined that the children who were originally enrolled in smaller classes continued to perform better than their peers who had started out in larger ones. Project Challenge, a part of this same study, observed the 17 economically poorest school districts. They were given small classes in kindergarten, first, second and third grades. These districts improved their end-of-year standing in rank among the 139 districts from well below average to above average in reading and mathematics, according to Frederick Mosteller, Ph.D., professor emeritus of mathematical statistics at Harvard University.

If class size does not decrease, some parents and teachers feel that there will be more issues in the future.

“I see higher rates of teachers getting burnt out or leaving, increased behavior issues, lower graduation rate and decreased performance in the classroom. It’s going to be difficult for teachers to really do their job well and to give students the education that they deserve,” Kangail said.

There is no immediate resolution to this issue. t is still active and will most likely be voted on by the Oregon Senate in 2019. This bill”s progress can be followed on the Oregon State Legislature website.