The poor kid with his fingers plugged into the holes in the school dike is clearly running out of digits. Today’s story on average class sizes documented the latest worrisome leaks in the quality of education we’re offering our kids.
Superintendent Ron Hitchcock some months ago with a certain flourish released a staffing model, which represented his budget priorities. After consulting what the research shows on how to boost student achievement, he proposed staffing models for each school — including desired class sizes.
That model projected a roughly 10 percent drop in staffing overall — but significant declines in class sizes at most schools. We applaud Hitchcock’s emphasis on shifting staff resources into the classroom.
Alas, laudable goals must mud wrestle with glowering facts in a state that continues to shortchange our kids.
So the board closed Frontier Elementary School to save $400,000 a year in maintenance and administrative costs and forced a big jump in class sizes at the undersized Payson Elementary School. An unexpected surge in enrollment of kindergartners and first-graders compounded the overcrowding problem there.
Now figures obtained by the Roundup on actual class sizes reveal how far we’ve got to go. Class sizes often remain 20 percent larger than the model.
Worse yet, the district’s effort to cope with the ongoing budget woes has started to force essential classes out of the curriculum. For instance, this semester the district opted not to offer calculus because only half a dozen students expressed interest. Calculus remains essential for scientific or technical careers, so we’re dismayed the district doesn’t offer even a single class.
Granted, the debate about the impact of class size is complicated. Lots of research shows that classes with fewer than 18 students significantly boost student learning and scores — especially in the primary grades. The evidence remains far less compelling when it comes to incremental changes at the upper grades — let’s say the difference between 28 per class and 24 per class.
So we believe the district must dig deeper into the research on class sizes before moving forward.
Still, we applaud Hitchcock’s clear, consistent focus on student achievement, which has forced a whole series of tough decisions — like offering all-day kindergarten despite the lack of state support.
On the other hand, we also appreciate the board’s decision to take a deep breath before spending the $1 million from the sale of Frontier. The rising class sizes, the dwindling funding, the sudden school crowding and the escalating state and federal mandates have confronted the board with a whole series of no-win choices.
Maybe that means the kid with his fingers in the dike will have to muddle through another year while the district draws up a coherent plan. And in the meantime — if you run out of fingers, don’t forget your toes.