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Friday, October 20, 2006

Class Size Reduction Proposal

By Lyle Hillyard
Senate Chair of Executive Appropriations

Here's a proposal in answer to commenters on my blog about funding a reduction in class size.

In discussing my concern about ensuring that money invested for class size reduction is really used for that purpose, a good friend in public education suggested the following:
1. Fund class size reduction state wide in 2007.

2. Sunset the appropriations in, say, 3 years.

3. At the end of that time, those school districts that had achieved appropriate goals for class size reductions would continue to receive the funding. Districts that diverted that money to something else would see that funding end.
Districts would have to be serious about class size reductions. They would have to execute a realistic plan to keep classes within appropriate limits, prioritizing their resources accordingly.

Do the job and they keep the money to continue that job. Abandon it and they lose the funding.

Do you think this idea has merit?

Thanks Patty, Deb, Marie, Daniel, tinytim, Tom, Anonymous, and everyone else involved in the discussion for the insight you added to the previous blog. Please keep it coming.


Blogger Steve said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

10/20/2006 9:47 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

Senator Hillyard,

I am not sure if this is a great idea. Usually the schools that face the most stumbling blocks to improve require more funding than those that can easily adjust. Look at the "wonderful" No Child Left Behind Act. Why do we penalize schools that fall short of high stakes testing standards when they need more help?

I can see how threatening to cut funding if schools do not reduce teacher per student ratios can compel administrators to fret, but why can't the legislature earmark the funding for the specific purpose of hiring new faculty in the first place?

10/20/2006 9:48 PM  
Anonymous Tim said...

Senator Hillyard,

I think your idea has great merit. I would only make it a little more specific by adding a few key points:

1) First of all, and I’m sure you meant to, we need to include the charter schools somehow. Remember, they aren’t actually in a district. Would they each need to meet the goals or would the entire group?

2) We desperately need to find a better way to determine class size. The number reported is only poorly related to the actual size of the classes. Districts include all kinds of school staff in the number and that skews the conversation. One of the schools in my area claims a class size of 24 and yet, none of the teachers have classes that small. How can that be the average when NO ONE has a class that small?

3) Someone will need to come up with an good estimate of the actual COST of class size reduction. Then, THAT AMOUNT will need to be allocated. If the funding is vastly insufficient, most districts will fail even though they sincerely tried to achieve the goal. If the funding is vastly excessive, everyone will succeed without trying very hard.

4) I think the goal should be a PERCENTAGE not a NUMBER. Some schools have 30 kids per class while others have 25. If the goal is 20, obviously the one with 25 will have an easier time reaching it. If, instead, they both had a goal of reducing class size by 25 percent, they would be in the same boat.

10/23/2006 7:31 AM  
Anonymous Steve Kroes said...

In response to Tim's post, two years ago Utah Foundation estimated the cost of reducing the pupil-teacher ratio statewide (not exactly class size, but this is what's commonly used to gauge class size). I don't recall if USOE ever commented on how accurate they thought our formula was, but at that time, we thought it would cost $50 million to reduce the pupil-teacher ratio by one. I'm sure it would cost more now, but perhaps that's a starting point for discussion of cost. Our number was for all grades, not just K-3 or K-6. It included high school.

The brief included references to some studies on the effectiveness of class size reduction. Having experienced the K-3 reduction (to 20 pupils per classroom) in California during the 1990s with my daughter, I can say that the change was enormously popular with parents. However, once kids got to 4th grade, they had classes of 35 or even 40 students, because the K-3 classes had taken so much space and so many teachers. There were a lot of complaints about lack of space and hiring uncredentialed teachers because of the labor shortage it caused.

10/23/2006 12:20 PM  
Blogger The Senate Site said...

That's good information. Thank you Steve.

10/23/2006 2:05 PM  
Blogger Daniel said...

I like the idea and I agree with Tim. A strong definition of class size is needed. Do we really want to reduce the actual class size? Then count students per classroom. Districts would have to literally create more classrooms and hire qualified teachers for those classrooms to make a difference. Is it instead acceptable to reduce the student to teacher ratio? Then be sure you count only teachers actually in the class. You might, for example, divide students by the number of full-time teachers present in the class. E.g. an aide spending 2 hours in a class out of 6 total per day would count as 1/3 of a teacher for that class. The legislature should be clear about what its goals are.

I personally would like to see a meaningful reduction in actual class size, not just some teachers aides hired to help out in a class of 30 students.

10/23/2006 4:47 PM  
Anonymous Tony McGuire said...

You propose to give away my tax dollars for a program for 3 years, whether the schools even make an attempt at class size reduction?

"Here, take this extra money. We don't care whether you actually do anything, and won't stop the money for 3 years."

I think that is attrocious, and waste in the extreme.

Although I'm sure it is feelgood for someone.

10/23/2006 9:35 PM  
Blogger Tony McGuire said...

You propose to give away my tax dollars for a program for 3 years, whether the schools even make an attempt at class size reduction?

"Here, take this extra money. We don't care whether you actually do anything, and won't stop the money for 3 years."

I think that is attrocious, and waste in the extreme.

Although I'm sure it is feelgood for someone.

10/23/2006 9:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What if we change the way our classrooms look? This could address the problems of lack of individualized attention, lack of collaboration and too much isolation in the teaching profession, lack of music and P.E. in elementary schools, and the different needs of say, Algebra students. And not have portable classrooms at every school or marginal teachers needing to be hired to fill jobs.

What if the education professionals were given a chance to come up with a plan that would work in their district which may look different from a smaller class size but meets the objectives of a smaller class size? As well as being acceptable to the Lege and fully funded.

10/24/2006 9:24 AM  
Anonymous Marie said...

I'm excited to see this is still being thought out. I had some concerns come immediately to mind with this idea, however. Here's somethings to think about, although I don't know how to put them into an equation:
Schools where the population of school aged children in their boundaries is smaller may have an easier time with keeping class sizes lower than schools with a larger population. How will this be weighted?

Administrative decisions influence class-size, but "appease" teachers and parents with other "advantages". For example, the schools where specialty classes are offered give teachers a "prep period" while offering subjects like art, p.e., and music to students in an intensified setting. This makes teachers happy, makes parents feel their children receive a more "well-rounded" education, and so the compromise is made of larger class-size. Also, the administrative decision to have an extended day schedule costs the school more money than the traditional schedule, which impacts class-size. However, this option is usually more acceptable to parents than year-round school. It also saves the districts from having to put in costly air conditioning or having students in classrooms in 100 degree temperatures. The compromise is that the class size overall is larger, but the students have a certain time frame (such as an hour and a half) where only half of the class is attending. One group comes in at 8 and goes home at 2, and the other group comes in at 9:30 and goes home at 3:30. So you have a smaller class size during critical subjects such as reading. Will this be adequate "class size reduction" to qualify for funding?

The state's portion of paying for each child's education is even (WPU), but you still have districts collecting money from the local property tax. Some districts, like say in Park City, will have much more money available to keep class sizes lower. Will they be eligible for the extra funding because they have this resource already, while districts with lower property values (like rural Utah where acres and acres are still undeveloped, and so have very little assessed value) be penalized even if they offer a "widow's mite"? I am not at all suggesting that there be "disaggregated data" used in a payout for reducing class sizes, but just suggesting there are many many variables at play on this issue.

I'd love to go on a rant here about districts collecting property tax here, and bond elections, and... but I'm trying to stay on topic. So I'll leave that for another discussion. ;)

I think if we're looking for answers, go to where it's being done. Go to the classrooms where they already have the ideal teacher to student ratio and see how it's working there.

10/30/2006 4:19 PM  
Anonymous Marie said...

Oh, yeah, I agree with Tony McGuire. You can't have three years of funding with nothing to show for it. Maybe something like the Perkins Loan, where the districts can qualify for the funding on the condition that they will actually use it for the reduction in class size. But if they fail to demonstrate that it is actually used for the purpose it is given, it will have to be paid back with interest.

10/30/2006 4:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My son recently started elementary school in the Salt Lake School District. I have been amazed by the number of half days and days completely off.

If we could look at having the students spend more time in school, it might achieve the goal of smaller class size. Time in school does not mean taking away time from recess, art classes, and PE. It means more time in the day for teachers to work with students. Of course, we would have to pay teachers more to reimburse them for the increased work load.

Bottom line, instead of spending on buildings that might not be needed over time, we would spend money on actual teaching.

This strategy has been implemented in Jackson Hole, Wyoming this year. It will be interesting to see its effectiveness.

11/01/2006 3:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think we could save money right off the top by getting rid of weekly "early out" days that are supposed to be used for teacher prep. days, and instead have Fridays off once a month. You don't have to run busses then, you don't even have to have staff at the school. Teachers could use that day for prep, either in the school or at home and over the course of 1 school year you could probably save milions of dollars statewide. It's a start.

11/09/2006 4:00 PM  

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