[Update – the initial post referred to “average” class sizes instead of “maximum” class sizes. The title and the post below have been corrected.]
In an AJC article titled “Amid budget cuts, teachers struggle with larger classes” Shannon McCaffrey and Ty Tagami report on the extensive number of
average maximum class size waivers that schools across Georgia are requesting from the Georgia Department of Education.
Data examined by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution shows that last year, 80 percent of the state’s 180 school districts approved plans to exceed class-size caps. Those caps, adopted before the recession, were supposed to boost the state’s lackluster student performance.
In 2009, cash-strapped districts were given permission to exceed the caps — ranging from 18 students in kindergarten to 32 in high school — by three students. Since then, districts have been allowed to increase the class sizes in most areas by any amount so long as they adopt the change at a public meeting.
For decades, researchers have studied the connection between class size and student outcomes.
Steven Rivkin, an economics professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, co-authored a study on the effect of class sizes last month. “The compelling research finds that smaller class sizes improve outcomes for children at least in the elementary grades,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any doubt about that.” He said there is also evidence that both high achievers and impoverished children are harmed most, perhaps because of the deterioration of the classroom order that Tanner described.
As extensively reported here, APS struggled with this issue during the FY14 budget process and did add approximately 180 additional teachers as compared to last year. However, most of the teachers added are in specialty areas (athletics, CTAE, Fine Arts, etc.) which do not impact the “core” average class size. As a result, even with the additional teachers, the BOE still had to adopt the same class size waiver as in FY13 – Elementary and Middle Schools +5 and High School +3.
In addition, there is another key element that the article did not address in relation to class sizes. While a number of the nearby school districts do have similar class size waivers, as the AJC reported last week, the amount spent on administrators in APS “dwarfs” the level in other districts. As such, the surrounding districts have far less financial flexibility to reallocate funds to teachers without raising taxes. However, given the outsize nature of spending on APS administrators (nearly twice the level of any other nearby District), APS had the opportunity to reallocate funds from administrators to teachers with the resulting decrease in class sizes.
To put it simply – the BOE chose not to do so.
Except Nancy Meister – who voted against the FY14 budget – the four incumbents running for reelection (McDaniel, Amos, English and Muhammad) – accepted the status quo and the larger class sizes.