What's the Big Deal With Bigger Class Sizes?

What's the big deal over sticking kids in classes that are 40 percent larger than just two years ago?

By now, you’ve probably heard of the plan to once again

The Board of Trustees' unanimous decision was driven by economics, not student need. Placing 28 children in each class will save $415,000 over the current ratio of 25 children to 1 teacher. (Two years ago, our youngest learners enjoyed a 20 to 1 ratio.)

So what’s the big deal over sticking kids in classes that are 40 percent larger than just two years ago?

Children deserve individual attention every day. My daughter Chloe isn’t a robot, she’s a unique little person who thrives on personal recognition and individuality. I want her first experiences with school to be the most amazing experiences possible — ones that encourage her innate love of learning, human interaction and personal growth.

Even the Founding Fathers enshrined individual liberty repeatedly in the Bill of Rights; the importance of individuals has been a feature of American government for centuries.

Individual attention also matters for academic achievement, because today’s Kindergarten curriculum was everybody else’s first grade experience. Academic standards are much higher than 20 years ago.

“With class sizes at 25 to 1, I already have trouble meeting all of my student’s needs,” says one of my friends, Candice, a first-grade teacher at . “With an additional three students, I know that every student’s needs will not be met. We can only do so much in one day.”

The English language standards for Kindergarten alone are five pages long. Let me give you a sample:

Phonemic Awareness
1.7 Track (move sequentially from sound to sound) and represent the number, sameness/ difference, and order of two and three isolated phonemes (e.g., /f, s, th/, /j, d, j/).
1.8 Track (move sequentially from sound to sound) and represent changes in simple syllables and words with two and three sounds as one sound is added, substituted, omitted, shifted, or repeated (e.g., vowel-consonant, consonant-vowel, or consonant-vowel-consonant).
1.9 Blend vowel-consonant sounds orally to make words or syllables.
1.10 Identify and produce rhyming words in response to an oral prompt.
1.11 Distinguish orally stated one-syllable words and separate into beginning or ending sounds.
1.12 Track auditorily each word in a sentence and each syllable in a word.
1.13 Count the number of sounds in syllables and syllables in words.

Teachers like Candice are already putting in a 110-percent effort every day. So when you add more children to their classes, just working longer hours isn’t an option. Something gets cut: a weekly story on the rug (in order to perform three more individual reading tests), a field trip to the museum (to shift planning time to three more parent conferences) or a more personal connection with every child.

Castro Valley prides itself on excellent schools. Our schools are a testament to the hard work of families, students and educators to develop a culture of success. So it’s a big deal when the School Board votes to further dismantle one of the key programs that benefit every child when they’re just getting their start in public education.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Teresa Coleman April 04, 2012 at 02:29 PM
John, as you know I have been vocal in how I feel about Castro Valley increasing class size from 25 to 28 in k-3 classrooms.I have taught k-4 myself and I am currently teaching 28 first graders.I can tell you 3 more students will make a big difference to those k-s classrooms.Each grade has unique challenges but k-3 teachers( especially k and 1) are also in a mother role.Our students rely on us for many thing besides getting an education.We teach them how to learn and have fun,how to hold a pencil and write your name correctly.How to sit in a chair safely,walk in line,wait your turn,raise your hand,make and keep a friend, how to sharpen a pencil and other social skills.At times, I feel like a nanny,psychologist,mother,nurse and of course an educator.Teachers wear many hats and unless you are in a classroom on a daily basis you just don't understand why 3 more students in a k-3 classroom is such a big deal.Excuse me it is time to put on my nurse's hat. Bill needs a bandaid,Suzy's tooth just fell out,Greg has a bloody nose and Kathy just threw up.
Thomas Clarke April 04, 2012 at 06:10 PM
Candice is doing the right thing, teaching children using professional skills. Thank you John for indicating the parts of the curriculum that you are team K-3. These are the skills no one but a teacher should need but are certainly of value to the child. Teresa, your students in first grade do not seem like they are ready to learn. The school principal, you, your union representative and the school board should back you up when you tell the parents that their children are too immature for the grade level and need to return a grade back or to home until they can hold a pencil, write their name correctly, sit in a chair safely, walk in line, wait their turn, raise their hand, make and keep a friend, how to sharpen a pencil and other social skills. Adding to that the nurse, nanny, psychologist and mother roles are clear indicators of what is wrong in both your school and others where this is permitted. These are the responsibilities of the previous grade's instructor/educator and parents. Clearly the child has not learned. They need to stay in the grade until they learn. Passing on the problem is not a help. The instructors who allow this to happen should be disciplined and removed for cause if this is found to be pervasive. A class of unlearners in the next grade is a solid indicator of the failure of the teacher. Application of these principles will result in lowered class sizes in higher grades. Do it now.
Teresa Coleman April 05, 2012 at 01:08 AM
I am not just talking about first graders since I have also taught kindergarten too. These are normal age appropriate behaviors.
David Ross April 05, 2012 at 02:59 PM
Several reports I have read state that smaller classrooms do not equate to better education. Smaller classrooms do mean more unionized (i.e. overpaid) teachers are hired and, as usual, the taxpayer is stuck for the bill.
Teresa Coleman April 05, 2012 at 04:14 PM
Teachers are not over paid.
Thomas Clarke April 05, 2012 at 04:35 PM
Of course you do not think you are overpaid. Employees never think they are overpaid. Your Superintendent is overpaid. Your union is overpaid. Your results are overpaid.
John T. Green April 05, 2012 at 10:13 PM
David, There is a well-known study conducted in Tennessee that found that smaller class sizes make a meaningful impact in student success. It can be measured in grades, attendance, self-esteem and test scores. Most importantly, these results persist long after students leave the smaller class size environment. Small class sizes are especially important for disadvantaged youth who's families are not able to play a large role in their academic success. Ensuring that every child has access to a quality education is enshrined in our state constitution. (One caveat - the Tennessee survey found that classes of 13 to 17 are ideal. So we are already pushing the bounds at 25 students per teacher.)
Dorothy Theodore April 06, 2012 at 12:01 AM
Teachers aren’t over paid. I don’t know this personally, I am not a teacher and I haven’t asked what the salaries are of my children’s teachers. If the school district is going to save $415,000 by cutting 14 elementary school teaching position that number per teacher is pretty small. Do the math. If you can do the math, you should thank a teacher. Thank you Teresa.
Rachel Bradley-Gomez April 06, 2012 at 10:25 PM
And in the midst of this, the district has seen fit to install a very costly solar energy project to the tune of several million dollars. While it's clear that this project is very forward thinking in terms of saving money and eventually recouping the investment (over a very long period of time), how many teaching positions might have been immediately saved had it been postponed? If the district is in a state of financial crisis, which I must assume it is if it's considering increasing class sizes, why was a project like this even open for discussion? It all seems very business like, as if the children and teachers are cogs and widgets in some sort of factory where black ink outweighs moral obligation and the mandate to educate. This is the problem that we run in to time and again when society attempts to assign monetary value to what is essentially priceless.
Krista Richey April 07, 2012 at 11:45 PM
Thomas, if you wait until students are "ready to learn" or have the other skills you mention, MOST students would not attend school, ever. These are skills learned in school, through practice , guidance, experience, and developmental growth that comes with age. Some parents do teach these skills at home, but sadly, many do not whether it is due to financial, medical, ignorance, familial, or other issues that family must deal with. The student's ability to learn and retain information is based on many variables, many of which are out of the teacher's control so putting the entire responsibility on one teacher for any student's projected success in the next grade is extremely unfair. I must also say that based on your comments you have not been around any first graders in a VERY long time and have forgotten that a 5 & 6 year old are not little adults that innately know all of these things. Even if they attended the 3 hour school day in kindergarten the year before, if their parents even put them in since it is not required, does not ensure they have matured and magically turned into a responsible student who wants to learn and has full self control at the age of 6! Every child is a unique individual who learns in their own way, develops at a different rate and responds to different learning styles. Meeting the needs of each unique individual becomes more difficult as you increase class sizes, while increasing pressure on teachers and cutting funding at the same time.
Thomas Clarke April 08, 2012 at 12:44 AM
Krista, the schools should not allow students to enroll who lack the base learning skills. The students should be held back until they gain those skills, either by repeating the previous grade or by attending a diversion program. This applies to more than just first graders. The positive result will be that classrooms will have fewer students in them. Teachers will be required to produce students that have learned enough skills to advance on to the next level.
Krista Richey April 08, 2012 at 04:24 AM
Thomas, the students have to get the skills somewhere (remember we were talking about how to raise their hand, walk in a line and do other things that require them to function in a groups situation which is just not the same at home- this is not the 1800s). Not to mention that denying anyone an education until they can hold a pencil or walk in a straight line, is sad, and not going to fly in our society today. There are students who are in special needs programs who cannot do many things and they too are allowed to go to school and accommodations must be made for them. So I just find it silly to say any education should be withheld until one can do certain things. Wouldn't that be even more detrimental to a student and ultimately society to withhold services or education and opportunity to practice these life skills and gain an education, even if every student may not have the ability to meet the "states standards", If a child can learn anything, and make any improvement, even if it is not to the state's expectations is better than none. More importantly, parents and the community should be supporting the teachers who are willing to work in the field and take the care and effort that some parents don't or can't make.
Carey Sanchez Para April 08, 2012 at 10:31 PM
Please note that due to budget constraints, CVUSD is not conducting summer school programs in K-8 for remediation, only for enrichment (i.e. parents who can afford to pay for extra programs through CV Adult School). Summer school will only be offered to high schoolers this summer who need the credits in order to graduate.
Thomas Clarke April 09, 2012 at 12:56 AM
Krista, I do not care where the kids get the minimum skills they need to start in the next grade. Teachers, School Districts and States decide what those minimum requirements are. If the child or adult cannot function in the first grade at first grade entrance requirements, then they should be in kindergarten repeating until they learn. If the child cannot learn past kindergarten then the child needs to be in a program that works at getting them past kindergarten. If the child is in special needs then they ought to be in special needs. I do not think that the classroom should be distracted with students who do not meet the minimums. Of course if you are a teacher or administrator or other concerned person in the school system who gets paid for advancing kids, regardless of their ability to learn, I would guess that you would disagree with me. Krista, I am talking about minimum standards by grade. The system already has those. Just enforce what we have. Parents and the community should support teachers who are willing to stand by the standards and produce the results. Those who don't should be unemployed and replaced with those who will produce the results.
Norma Kvool April 09, 2012 at 09:34 PM
I whole heartedly agree, Rachel, ...why is 6 million plus being spent to maybe save money over 20 years? Teachers and therefore education of our children is the future of America. California ranked number 1 40 years ago. Where are we now. The U.S. is falling behind while other countries are improving their education. As indicated by your picture, Thomas, you are somewhere in the 1800's. Class size is very important! Where will this end...30, 32, 34 students per class?
Thomas Clarke April 10, 2012 at 01:31 AM
Norma, class size is important to teachers and unions, because it increases the number of teachers. Now, if more teachers produced better results I would be the first to say have more teachers. Kids learn slowly or not at all because of a combination of some of these factors: bored, teachers are irrelevant, the subject is irrelevant, they are not noticed, their parents do not care, the language is not one they understand, they cannot read, they cannot write, their interpersonal skills are poor, or they just do not like school. Take your pick. Add a few. More teachers and classroom size and millions of dollars in tax money will not correct this. Teachers who are employed because they produce results are what is needed. And no one is working hard to produce that. What a surprise. Just close your eyes and imagine what would happen if you work up one day at school and found that the teachers cared, the principal cared the administration cared, the union cared and the school board cared. They guy that wrote that song would get shot.
Jaimie DeWitt April 11, 2012 at 10:03 PM
I am a middle school math teacher in Dublin. I have been very fortunate that our district is somewhat conservative with it's spending, ,and with the continued city growth to have been able to keep my job for the past 8 years. I see a lot of political comments above. Larger class sizes affect everyone. Yes, it allows less individualized time to be offered to students. It creates more outside the classroom work time for the teacher (that would be contractually unpaid, personal time), Having taught 5-6 different classes a day, some with up to 33 students, the combination of personalities can be daunting. Sometimes, being a teacher is like playing Chess. Johnny can't contain himself to a seat in the back of the room, so he must sit in the front of the room, but he constantly 'bothers' the girl sitting next to him, so he can't sit in a seat the has a seat directly next to him, and he has 'issues' with David, so he has to be seated on the other side of the room, out of direct eyesight. There are only so many seats in a classroom. This is coming from a teacher of 12 and 13 year olds. I can't imagine a class of 28 five and six year olds attempting to use scissors for an art project with only one teacher to monitor. Unfortunately, it's no longer about children and giving them the opportunities to be successful in life, it's became about politics. The money is there, it's just not being allocated properly.
Thomas Clarke April 12, 2012 at 12:26 AM
Jaimie, so let us assume that you and your union representative are letting the principal and school board know where they should be allocating and cutting from. I am sure that you are doing well with your math teaching. Your English grammar is still in need of lots of attention. I suspect you may have to repeat that part of your credential. "it's became about politics." Teaching is not at all like playing chess. It sounds to me like you are still struggling with your profession. It is good that you are not reaching out to the five and six year olds. Do insist though that you do not pass on students who fail your classes and exams. You do not do them a favor.
Jaimie DeWitt April 12, 2012 at 05:10 AM
Thank you for your comments Mr. Clarke. I would love to visit your classroom sometime. I believe we can never stop learning!
Thomas Clarke April 12, 2012 at 04:42 PM
Jaimie, although you may not subscribe to Twentieth Century American History, and I am sure H.L. Mencken gets no notice at Dublin High School, you might want to consider the old chestnut, "Those who can do. Those who can't, teach." My ashram is open to you if you care to give up all hope and enter. I am pleased that you are open to continuous learning. You did not answer my challenge to enumerate where the cuts should start and where the support should be reallocated. That may in fact be because you do not actually know or care. You have an opinion like so many others without much experience or skill in making it happen. Good luck to you though.
Carol Ojeda Caploe April 21, 2012 at 04:31 PM
"Word" to all of my colleagues in education and to our amazing families who advocate the best in academic and social/emotional growth for our children. Here's to our Word!
Excibe Schinist August 16, 2012 at 12:59 AM
I fail to see how more teachers can help our educational system. It's archaic, inefficient, and isn't getting it done. Instead of spending money on more teachers, why not use some of that money and invest in ways we can use technology to streamline, and modernize education. Is the school district aware that the internet is out there? We should be increasing class sizes, laying off ordinary teachers, and have a few regional teachers who teach the vast majority of kids in their districts. Stream lectures from the web, there are already supplemental educational videos out there like Khan Academy, which is absolutely free! Get rid of teachers, books. Licenses can be arranged for digital content. Most professionals don't even deal with paper, neither should kids. It's time to be more efficient with the funds we already have. Sadly the government remains bloated, corrupt, and behind the times.


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