Class size matters
I currently have 42 students in two classes at the high school—an average of 21 students per class. What this average does not reveal is that one class has 15 students and the other has 27. In which section would you prefer to have your child enrolled?
The personal attention a student receives in a class with fewer students is palpable. I spend a good deal of class time walking around to see how students are working and help those who need assistance.
Averages can be deceptive, however, and fail to tell the whole story about class size. Students who have special needs are in classes that have a low teacher-to-student ratio, established by special education law. At the other end, there are large ensemble classes where the ratio is much higher.
If we look at only academic classes, what then is the ideal number of students? There’s no simple answer. I recall that in the early 1990s, teachers had more say in how our academic sections would be organized. In the math department, we decided that Algebra I classes should be small, but that some upper-level classes could be larger—perhaps as many as 28 students.
It is still true that ninth-graders taking Algebra I need more attention. Entry-level foreign language classes should also be smaller to accelerate learning through increased opportunities to speak the language more often. Upper-level classes would also benefit from small class sizes, but often we need to prioritize due to budget constraints.
This year there are 64 academic classes at the high school that have 30 or more students. There are 124 classes with 28 students or more. In all my years at CH-UH, these numbers are unprecedented. We have been cost cutting for several years in a row, and this is the sad result.
Teachers with five classes of 28–30 students will not be able to give the kind of individual attention that students require. Grading papers for 130 or more students is a Herculean task that usurps the lives of teachers outside of school.
To add to their burden, teachers may also be asked to substitute for a colleague when an absence has not been filled. When this happens, a teacher’s planning time is reduced. Because CH-UH is short on substitute teachers, so far this year there are three times as many unfilled substitute slots as there were in each of the last three years. (If you have a college degree, please consider signing up to substitute teach in our district.)
Class sizes at the middle school are slightly better, but I believe that class sizes for younger students should be smaller. Between our two middle schools there are 31 academic classes with 28 or more students. There are 81 sections with 25 or more students. Elementary class sizes in our district have been more appropriate, although occasionally a few classes in the district have had more than 25 students. Ideally, a primary class should not have more than 20 students, in my opinion.
Budgets are tight. A levy is on the ballot. State funding is broken. We are not wasting tax dollars. CH-UH administration and the Board of Education take the task of educating the whole child very seriously. We do some things very well, but class sizes cannot continue moving upward as they have in the last few years. Teachers are overwhelmed and our students are being shortchanged. Class size matters!
Ari Klein is a lifelong community member, math teacher at Cleveland Heights High School, and president of the Cleveland Heights Teachers Union.