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Class sizes increase as funds drop

Student limits dependent on grade, subject

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Debates about classroom sizes are nothing new, but the issue has taken on greater prominence in the past two years as school districts face tightened budgets.

Richmond Academy's Ken Johnson talks in his history class. County school board members recently kept maximum class sizes unchanged, though some would like to see reductions.   Corey Perrine/Staff
Corey Perrine/Staff
Richmond Academy's Ken Johnson talks in his history class. County school board members recently kept maximum class sizes unchanged, though some would like to see reductions.

Leonie Haimson, the executive director of the nonprofit group Class Size Matters, says class sizes have grown nationwide "because of state and city budget cuts," and she says more work should be done to track the change.

"It's one of the areas we need better data on, and we're not getting it," she said.

In an e-mail, Haimson said the optimal number of students in a classroom has not been determined, but most people believe it is no more than 15.

Richmond County school board members recently decided to keep maximum classroom sizes unchanged from last year, but their cap is still two students greater than two years ago, and some members say they wish the numbers could be reduced.

"I would really like to see the days where we're below 20 in the elementary classrooms," board member Venus Cain said at a recent meeting.

Kenneth Johnson Jr., a social studies teacher, said he feels the optimum student-to-teacher ratio is about 15 to 18 students.

"Generally, students and teachers alike feel the pressure to perform even more than they usually would when there is a large enough audience," he said.

However, he also sees some benefit from a larger class.

"Because of increased numbers, there is a greater likelihood that (students) would come into contact with more students where they must learn to compromise, adapt or stand their ground," Johnson said.

The student limit per class in Richmond County depends on grade level, with kindergarten at 20, grades 1-3 at 23, grades 4-5 at 30 and high school between 28 and 35 depending on the subject. Last school year, a few elementary classes and English as a Second Language classes exceeded their state-approved limit by one, causing officials to request an exemption. This year, limits no longer need state approval and can be set by districts as enrollments increase.

Richmond County school officials have said most of their classes fall below the maximum level, though the district doesn't track its average classroom size. Only individual schools conduct such tracking.

In Columbia County, the maximum class sizes also depend on grade level, with the cap at 20 in kindergarten, 21 in first through third grades, 28 in fourth through eighth grades and as many as 30 in high school.

A call to Michele Conner, Aiken County's director of elementary education, seeking the district's maximum class sizes wasn't immediately returned.

The U.S. Department of Education has said keeping classes below 20 students is better for learning. This year's candidates for Georgia school superintendent -- Democrat Joe Martin and Republican John Barge -- have weighed in on the issue.

At a Georgia Public Broadcasting debate this summer where The Chronicle asked candidates about class sizes, Barge said the smallest numbers should be at the elementary level, with maximums reaching no higher than 23 students per class.

He said that at the high school level, larger class sizes "are a more manageable entity, especially when you consider students going off to college. If they're going to the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, they may be sitting in a classroom with 400 students. So a classroom size in high school of somewhere of 30- to 32-to-1 would be probably a top point there."

Martin didn't give a preferred student number at the debate but did say class sizes are a problem statewide.

"We have a double problem," he said. "We're expanding class sizes and shortening the school year. I've never seen it this difficult to provide the education that our youngsters need."

Haimson said that in 2007 -- the most recent data available -- the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development noted that average U.S. elementary class sizes were 23.1 and middle schools were at 24.3.

The National Center for Education Statistics has shown high school class size averages at 23.3. Georgia's 2007 elementary average class size was 17.6, according to the NCES. The state's average high school class size was 23.

Despite such figures, statistics have shown student-to-teacher ratios have declined compared with several decades ago. A July Educational Testing Service report notes that the nationwide pupil-to-teacher ratio for kindergarten through 12th grade was 24.7 in 1965. That figure dropped to 17.9 by 1985, 17.2 by 1990 and 16 in 2000.

Haimson said the ratio has since leveled off and is not a good measure of class numbers.

"That does not translate to what your average student experiences," she said, noting that ratios become skewed partly because special education classes are included and have much smaller classes.

She said schools also now have such positions as counselors, speech therapists and reading and math coaches that in some cases aren't assigned to a regular class.

The bottom line, Haimson says, is that smaller classes produce greater student learning.

"There is nothing more important that policymakers can do to improve learning conditions in our schools than to keep classes small," she said.

Comments (17)

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gijoe7898
0
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gijoe7898 08/15/10 - 03:13 am
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hey RCSB. what's the admin

hey RCSB. what's the admin to student ratio?

factfinder
6
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factfinder 08/15/10 - 09:11 am
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---and academic coaches, etc

---and academic coaches, etc

factfinder
6
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factfinder 08/15/10 - 09:11 am
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---and academic coaches, etc

---and academic coaches, etc

cristinadh
6
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cristinadh 08/15/10 - 10:47 am
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this is ridiculous because

this is ridiculous because large class sizes do not lead to learning.. they lead to frustration from the teacher to the student and more behavioral issues even if the teacher has control of the class!!!.. Way to go AYP for next year!!

scoobynews
3697
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scoobynews 08/15/10 - 10:51 am
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I saw first hand last week

I saw first hand last week what increased class sizes mean - less learning and more disruptions. Class size would not be a problem if schools didn't allow students who are constant disruptions to be allowed to return to schools. I had a student who all week has not come to my class prepared. He has no notebook, no dividers, and no motivation. He even told me that he does not care and doesn't plan on getting a notebook. Trust me it is not an economic situation either he has two bling studs in both ears, multiple chains hanging from his neck, brand new tennis shoes, and nice clothing on everyday. He just flat out doesn't care and his older brother has been involved with gang activity. Do you think we can do anything about it - nope! He and many others like him throughout the county will continue to sit in a classroom with your children everyday. This is why parents that can send their children to private school.

disssman
6
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disssman 08/15/10 - 11:20 am
0
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Not a problem at Crosscreek.

Not a problem at Crosscreek. In fact they are saving money by not providing students with math books again this year. Scoobys' comments are exactly on track. Why hasn't the Principal at that school done anything? The parents should have been notified the first day of his attitude by the teacher and on succesive days by the Principal or his/her well paid assistant. Just another reason the teachers need someone, outside their chain-of-command , like an IG to adress problems to. Of course the Principal will just do nothing, because there aren't any policys covering the problem, but boy he would be in trouble if he drew a cartoon picture with a gun in it. That would be enough to get him suspended the first time and sent to dumb dumb school for any other occusances. Yeah, disruption is ok.

Little Lamb
40139
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Little Lamb 08/15/10 - 11:21 am
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Quotes from above: Leonie

Quotes from above:

Leonie Haimson, the executive director of the nonprofit group Class Size Matters, says . . . "[Class size is] one of the areas we need better data on, and we're not getting it."

Richmond County school officials have said most of their classes fall below the maximum level, though the district doesn't track its average classroom size. Only individual schools conduct such tracking.

A call to Michele Conner, Aiken County's director of elementary education, seeking the district's maximum class sizes wasn't immediately returned.

. . . Despite such figures, statistics have shown student-to-teacher ratios have declined compared with several decades ago. A July Educational Testing Service report notes that the nationwide pupil-to-teacher ratio for kindergarten through 12th grade was 24.7 in 1965. That figure dropped to 17.9 by 1985, 17.2 by 1990 and 16 in 2000. Leonie Haimson said the ratio has since leveled off and is not a good measure of class numbers.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
How about this radical idea for news reporting: Send a team of Chronicle employees (there need to be some reporters, but interns, clerks, salesmen, etc. can do it also) into CSRA schools and go into actual classrooms during instruction and count the numbers of students and teachers. These data would be better than just parroting what the BOEs spew out. Of course, that would take real work instead of just sitting by the telephone.

scoobynews
3697
Points
scoobynews 08/15/10 - 02:30 pm
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When I worked in RC over 10

When I worked in RC over 10 years ago it was not uncommon to have 31 students in a classroom.

scoobynews
3697
Points
scoobynews 08/15/10 - 02:32 pm
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disssman this kid has already

disssman this kid has already been to alternative school and proudly admitted to it. If I recall correctly his exact words about it was "fun".

disssman
6
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disssman 08/15/10 - 07:16 pm
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Scooby that is the shame of

Scooby that is the shame of our "leaders" not having a policy for that, but having iron clad rules if a student had an aspirin on themselves for a cold.

disssman
6
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disssman 08/15/10 - 07:23 pm
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Back when I went to school we

Back when I went to school we routinely had far more than 31 students in a classroom. But that was back when teachers made sure students had text books on day one. It is not surprising that Crosscreek fails miserably in math AYP year after year. Don't they realize the importance of having a reference that students can use when they are lost trying to do homework? And bless the poor teacher who is more afraid of losing her or his position than they are about the childrens education. Now what kind of "decent" teacher allows the class to stumble along without books? But I don't blame teachers because the Principal would just fire them for inefficiency. Where are the common sense policys that our elected officials are supposed to develop?

momster59
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momster59 08/15/10 - 07:28 pm
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dissman - believe me the

dissman - believe me the teachers REALLY want their kids to have textbooks. It has NOTHING to do with the teacher. I have taught my upper lever class in science for four years without books to issue my kids and have been cussing and fussing and raising ruckus for my kids every year. It's not even up to the principal. The school board buys the books and decides who gets them and who doesn't. Thank goodness my kids are FINALLY getting textbooks issued this year.

Little Lamb
40139
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Little Lamb 08/15/10 - 09:45 pm
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Disssman asked: Now what kind

Disssman asked:

Now what kind of "decent" teacher allows the class to stumble along without books?

You don't need those overpriced textbooks to learn math. The teacher can xerox pages from old textbooks. The students can be directed to websites with math problems and solutions. The "I don't have a book" excuse is lame, lame, lame.

scoobynews
3697
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scoobynews 08/15/10 - 10:07 pm
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Most textbooks are a waste of

Most textbooks are a waste of money. A handful of companies make the books that are mass produced. They throw in a few things that make it a GEORGIA book or a ALABAMA book based on those states standards. One of our state BOE officials told us in a meeting last year that only about 11 pages out of the current social studies book goes with the Georgia Performance Standards. What does the state test on yep you guessed it the GPS (Georgia Performance Standards).

kgordon
2
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kgordon 08/15/10 - 10:26 pm
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Hey Disssman, You do not know

Hey Disssman, You do not know what youy are talking about when you say Cross Creek dont have textbooks. We do. They are the same as the other high schools in the state! If you dont believe this, come to open house in Sept 7th from 6 - 8.

CoastalDawg
125
Points
CoastalDawg 08/15/10 - 11:52 pm
0
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Most counties lost many

Most counties lost many teachers over a year ago and rehired very few. At some point in time this will haunt our country in a way from which it will take years to recover. Now suddenly another bailout comes along for teachers - too little too late but the heart of the matter is that the operation of schools is NOT designated to the federal government in the constitution, thus they do not constitutionally have authority to determine monies for schools. At some point in time we are either going to wake up and put our country back into the hands of those who know, love and appreciate our constitution or we will continue to become the socialist welfare state toward which the president is rushing us, the same president who hosted a ramadan dinner in the White House - doesn't that tell you something about him which discerning people already knew? If the federal government continues to control the purse strings for our schools they can be sufficiently dumbed down within not more than the 12 years it takes for students to be automatically promoted from grade to grade. Have you HEARD the way that many high school students murder the king's English now and no one is attempting to do anything about it. Without a cash register to tell them how much change, most cashiers have no idea how much they owe a customer who gives them too much money. And math books are not IMPORTANT? WE have to make a choice here - teach the teachable or forfeit at least a whole generation on the altar of self serving socialistic programs designed to take our country apart, seam by seam.

lifelongresidient
0
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lifelongresidient 08/17/10 - 06:27 pm
0
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again lack of textbooks,

again lack of textbooks, school supplies and laying off teachers, thus equating to larger class sizes...the blame only goes to one place it's the school board!!!! they sent the tone and agenda, there is always money for sports, not one cent gets cut, butler-new gym, josey-new fieldhouse, laney-new stadium, arc-new running track....teachers/parapros underpaid or laid of, insufficent textbooks and/or school supplies at time purchased by the same overworked-underpaid teachers...people look at the pattern and follow the trail back and it leads directly to the school board, ok some will say that splost money can't be used for teachers school supplies etc...that may be true but when you have a school district that year after year runs deficits having to raise taxes or lay off teachers but will put capital projects on the ballot look at where their priorities are...especially since the schools that are getting these capital projects aren't or haven't made ayp in years, in the case of laney it hasn't made ayp since it's inception back in 2002

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