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KQED Forum: Class Size Reduction

Original post made by Stacey, Amberwood/Wood Meadows, on Nov 29, 2009

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"A state program that has invested billions to shrink class sizes is coming apart, and the number of kids in many California classrooms is at the highest level in more than a decade. That's according to a new investigation by California Watch, a project of the Center for Investigative Reporting in collaboration with KQED Public Radio. We'll find out how teachers are coping with kindergarten through third grade classes that have as many as 30 students, a situation now common in districts like San Jose and Contra Costa County. Meanwhile, some argue that with pressing budget cuts and inconclusive evidence about the benefit of small class sizes, class size reduction should not be a priority. We explore the debate."

A major point in this program is that in an ideal world we'd have the best teachers teaching in smaller classes. This isn't an ideal world. Resources are limited. How do we invest those resources to the maximum benefit of students?

Comments (14)

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Posted by Joe
a resident of Downtown
on Nov 29, 2009 at 2:04 pm

I don't think I get it because I was never in a classroom that had less than 50 students (and that includes K-12 & 4yrs college) and the teachers never complained and the students never complained and the parents never complained and everyone received a good education. Grad school, of course, was different, but the point is my education never suffered because of class size. It must be a "generation gap" that I just can't see across. Its either that or the unions and "professional educators" have brainwashed everyone into believing that class size is a dominant factor in education in order to employ more teachers. The students WILL learn whether there are 20,30, or even 50 in a class becuase when education is stressed in the home, as it is here, then even bad teachers can't hinder it.


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Posted by Get the facts
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Nov 29, 2009 at 4:41 pm

Joe, it is simple. The less students in each class, the more individual time each child will receive from the teacher.

When I was in school, I too had larger classes than we see now, though not as big as the 50+ you had. But in my day in Pleasanton, most of my classmates were very similar to me. What we have now is at least a couple ESL (English as a Second Language) students in each class, special needs students mainstreamed into the classroom, and at least a few IEP's (Individualized Education Program) in each class as well. All of this pulls on the teacher's time, and these are things that the teachers didn't have to deal with when you and I were in school (at least not to this degree). And don't forget that the state of California, in all of its wisdom to help our kids, made the standards creep down to the lower grades. What I mean, for example, is what you and I learned in the third grade, is now being taught in the second grade.

Joe, I would encourage you to spend a day or half-day in a classroom to observe all of what I have just spoken about. Especially try to get to an elementary classroom, since they reap the most benefits from class size reduction.

I agree that "The students WILL learn whether there are 20,30, or even 50 in a class becuase when education is stressed in the home, as it is here", but the problem is that it is not stressed in all homes. Some families have two working parents with multiple jobs to stay afloat, and have little or no time to give real help to the kids. Some parents don't even speak English, compounding their troubles.

It's a different world than what you and I grew up in, Joe, and I grew up here in Pleasanton. I have seen the changes, I have seen the challenges these changes have caused. I love the diversity and inclusion this town has, but it is more challenging on the teaching front. I urge you to not take my word for this, but to go observe this for yourself.


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Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger
a resident of Vintage Hills Elementary School
on Nov 29, 2009 at 5:34 pm

Get the facts, There are more cost effective ways to reduce class size than just making it 20:1. Hiring aides for core subjects is just one example--less expensive than a teacher and classes can be set up so one aide can cover more than one class in a day. It will take willingness to look creatively at the issue to find possible solutions.

The push of standards into the lower grades has also caused some parents to hold their students out a year--so while it may be third grade curriculum in second grade, a fair number of the students are a year older (or what they would have been in third grade). The debate about changing the start date from December 2 to September or August comes and goes with no resolution. I believe we are one of the few states using the December date (here is a link that notes what appears to be older data on start dates: Web Link )

One question raised in the NPR piece is whether the current expense for CSR is the best way to spend the money (well over a billion dollars). I don't think California has considered all the options for how this money can be spent (or not spent) to provide an interesting, challenging education for our children.


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Posted by Joe
a resident of Downtown
on Nov 29, 2009 at 7:10 pm

Let me re-phrase that...I do get it, I just don't accept it.


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Posted by Stacey
a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Nov 29, 2009 at 7:27 pm

Stacey is a registered user.

Whether or not to hold a child back a year from Kindergarten is a question seriously entertained by Pleasanton parents.


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Posted by Get the facts
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Nov 29, 2009 at 7:43 pm

Kathleen, I seriously doubt the number of people holding their students back due to the push down of the standards is more than 1%. There are a myriad reasons that a parent may choose to hold a student back or start them a year late, but the standards push is not a big one.

Personally, I would rather see 20:1 in a classroom than 40:1 with an aide. I agree this would save money, but I can tell you it's not better for the kids. One thing I failed to mention is that one student in a classroom of 20 can change the whole dynamic, but a teacher has a good shot at getting at getting a grasp on this challenge at this ratio. But at 25:1, there might be two of these types of students. At 40:1, there might be three, and many aides are not well trained in this. Bottom line, in desperate times we might have to do what you suggest, but the best thing for the kids is lower class sizes. This should be the goal, even if we have to stray for a while during these sad economic times. I hope we can agree that this should be the goal.

Joe, I think you might get it, and/or accept it, better if you take my recommendation and observe in a classroom. Go to a K-3 class and see what it is like at 25:1 for an hour, then go to a 4-5 class and see what it is like at 33:1. Only an eight student change, but worlds apart in difference.


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Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger
a resident of Vintage Hills Elementary School
on Nov 29, 2009 at 8:05 pm

Get the facts: Each family is going to choose what is best for their child in terms of timing for school. I wouldn't quote a percent though--it probably varies quite a bit year to year.

I wouldn't advocate for 40:1, but I'm not sure we can afford 20:1 either. 25:1 and an aide--maybe that is reasonable. One thing is for sure, if everyone takes an inflexible stance, there are no solutions to be had.


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Posted by einstein
a resident of Mohr Elementary School
on Nov 29, 2009 at 9:15 pm

einstein is a registered user.

I have been down to the schools and observed the classrooms and it appears to me that the issue is the behavior of the children and acting out which impacts the ability to teach in a larger classroom. I cannot understand how parents can expect a teacher to teach under those circumstances. You should call the parents down to the school from work to pick up their unruly kids otherwise it gets no better. If I had been called away from work a few times I guarantee I would have fixed my childs behavior.


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Posted by Get the facts
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Nov 29, 2009 at 9:16 pm

Kathleen, I don't appreciate you insinuating that my stance is inflexible.

By the way, "25:1 and an aide" would cost more than keeping 20:1 and no aide, unless you paid the aide less than 15 grand a year. Good luck finding a qualified person to do that. If you had an aide at 30:1, then they would need to make less than 50% of what a certificated teacher would make, otherwise it would not be profitable.

So how 'bout we keep the 20:1, if possible. I will say it again, lower class size should be the goal, I hope we can agree upon that.


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Posted by old school
a resident of Birdland
on Nov 30, 2009 at 9:00 am

I went through Pleasnton public schools (K-12). I think my avearage class size was about 32 students. Now people reflect upon that time as a time when kids were better behaved, better educated...Yes Pleasanton has changed since then, parenting and teaching techniques have changed and so on. Back then teachers giving 'individual time' to students was considered wasteful unless absolutely needed. The idea was if a teacher was spending time with one student then they weren't paying any attention to the other 30 plus students. If kids have about 5 hours (300 minutes) of class instruction in a 20 student class you can spend 15 minutes with each student or 300 minutes with all of them. That was what we were taught. I would prefer to keep the teacher up front teaching all of the students with an aid running around handing out the 15 minutes each to individual student. If individual attention is the only thing that matters why can't parents just send their kids to class for 15 minutes a day? Kids should have the entire class time used, meaning class instruction, most all individual attention should be at home.


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Posted by Enuff
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Dec 1, 2009 at 1:32 pm

California is ranked 48th out of 50 when it comes to class sizes. Without any CSR, California would be ranked dead last.

For those of you who went to school in the 70s and 80s, such as me, or those whose children did, today's kids are WORSE off. We at least had free after-school programs such as sports; today's kids have to pay hundreds of dollars per year just to play football or baseball. We had PE every day; today's kids have PE once or twice a week; today's kids have homework starting in kindergarten; I don't remember getting any homework until 2nd grade. Not to mention all the cuts to music and art education...

California also ranks 48th when it comes to per pupil spending. C'mon, people, something has to be done, whether it be a parcel tax or adding more aides to a classroom. We CANNOT LET OUR SCHOOLS FAIL. Education should be our top priority, for these children will be our future leaders, scientists, doctors.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Dec 1, 2009 at 5:47 pm

I think CSR is important in the lower grades. What I do not understand is CSR in 9th grade, can someone please explain the logic behind it? I know kids are going into a bigger, new school in high school, but they have been in classes with 30+ kids since 4th grade, why the CSR then in 9th grade, given that kids went through school without CSR in 4-8 grades?

Someone told me that it was to get the kids used to the new environment, but 6th graders are also going to a new environment, and imo, that change is bigger: going from elementary school to middle school (where they now have to deal with multiple teachers, lockers, etc). So why the need for CSR in 9th grade? Can someone please explain?


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Posted by old school
a resident of Birdland
on Dec 1, 2009 at 7:37 pm

If every school in California was like Pleasanton schools California would be number 1 in education hands down. The problem is the inner city and poor rural areas(California has lots of them). If the goal is to help California's ranking we need to give money from areas like Pleasanton to fund the areas that really need the help. Since the parcel tax failed and the funds were to go to Pleasanton schools, I think the idea of spreading the wealth to help the poorer schools is a fantasy.


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Posted by Frank
a resident of Birdland
on Dec 1, 2009 at 8:23 pm

Behavior is a lot better in classes now than it was 40 years ago and education is better too. How many people back then watched as a friend nod off in class and fall to floor? Remember grass, speed, acid, and smack? Those were drug addled, screwed up times. Then there was all the fighting. Loud Rock and Roll. Too much freedom and no punishment or discipline. Classes were a joke. There wasn't much advanced placement.


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