Still, he said, Utah faces the challenge of the nation's largest student to teacher ratio: 22.6 students per teacher. And that impacts retention.
"We have about seven more students per teacher than the national average," he said. "It makes us very economically efficient. ... It also tends to stress the system."
If we are even coming close to those class sizes, it would only be in the lower elementary grades. I am admittedly not very familiar with our elementary schools as our daughter is not yet 5, but I understand that even Kindergarten classes rarely hit that ratio. The true statistic for secondary classes would read something like:
Utah faces the challenge of the nation's largest secondary student to teacher ratio: 30 or 40 students per “core” teacher (math, science, English), and 35 to 40+ for “non-core” teachers. And that has an enormous impact on every single aspect of teaching, from planning to classroom behavior to one-on-one opportunities to grading. That additional workload and stress causes too many teachers to burnout and quit.
"In our public fairytale where we count counselors, speech pathologists, media specialists, and other necessary, but non-classroom personnel as counting towards class size, we have about seven more students per teacher than the national average figured from numbers the other states presumably lie about too. So that’s OK," he said. "It makes us very, very, very economically efficient. ... It also tends to cause a teeny-weeny bit of stress to the system when teachers provide for 200+ students. (And don’t even ask about teacher ratios at Willowcreek Junior High in Lehi or other schools in growth areas waiting for new buildings to be finished.)"
The public and legislative debate on education needs to be based on facts. True class sizes need to be admitted and discussed, by education officials as well as legislators. Are those sizes acceptable? What are the ramifications for struggling students as well as gifted students?
And those class sizes are not the result of district mismanagement or waste; growth has simply outstripped the legislature’s ability or will to fund class size reduction.
Also, the Tribune published an excellent editorial (The entire text is in my previous post.) about Utah’s scores on a national writing test comparing 8th grade students. It was justly critical of the rationalizations and explanations for the poor scores. I am not personally familiar with the test (It is apparently given to random schools within each state. Another teacher told me today that it was given at our school 6 or 7 years ago.) and cannot explain what exactly the students wrote about or the scoring out of 300 points.
I agree with the Tribune’s concluding statement:
As NAEP states, "To become good writers students need expert
instruction, frequent practice and constructive feedback."
Utah students, whose score of 152 is below the national average of
154, obviously need more of that than they're getting.
And the absolute best, most effective way to achieve that goal is to reduce class size. The same results can not be achieved by any other means. Writing software, teacher aides, professional development, and other plans help and are appreciated. But they can’t be touted as lower cost alternatives to actual smaller classes. Complaining about the very real cost of more teachers, rationalizing that class room reduction is pointless if we don’t hit the magic ratio of 15 to 1, or blaming the teachers union and claiming it just wants more teachers to boost its non-existent power are silly avoidance techniques.
We may not have the resources to reduce classrooms to the ideal size and make everyone happy, but we have money being proposed and wasted on unproven pet projects. Any poll, even of Republicans, would put classroom size as a higher priority than laptops for preschoolers and tax-cuts for Delta Airlines and Skoal Tobacco. Do the right thing legislators. If we don’t have enough money for class size reduction or you want another tax cut, tell the public and make your case. Don’t falsely accuse the districts of mismanagement or spend the money on side projects. And don’t talk down to us about how we don’t really want smaller classes. Teachers, parents, and students know better.