By Mike Myslinski, Dina Martin, Bill Guy, Frank Wells
Hayward Teachers Association members rally to protect California's class size reduction program.
Despite CTA’s successful effort in the state budget battle to preserve the state’s 12-year-old Class Size Reduction (CSR) program, many school districts are still threatening to increase class sizes.
Around the state, smaller classes are being eliminated despite their proven benefit of providing more one-on-one teaching and learning. Decisions were still being finalized at press time, but some districts had already made theirs.
“Parents are very upset,” says Mount Pleasant Educators Association Co-President Lori Hiura, whose district in San Jose chose in February to kill off all smaller classes in kindergarten through third grade. “This will affect our struggling students, especially those students who are English learners.”
Despite widespread state cuts to education funding, the new state budget fully funds K-3 Class Size Reduction, and maintains ratios at 20.4 to 1 for K-3 class sizes, adjusting penalties for school districts if they choose to exceed CSR program caps.
Mount Pleasant School District will have as many as 33 students in some K-3 classes, Hiura says, and is also reeling from other cuts that include closing one elementary school.
In Alameda County, Hayward Education Association members are so angry that the school board is pulling out of the CSR program that they plan to protest the resulting layoffs by symbolically burning their pink slips March 25 at a public park. Some 370 permanent and temporary teachers will lose their jobs, says HEA President Kathleen Crummey.
“Parents are stunned,” Crummey says. “Parents are speaking out and so are teachers. This is outrageous.”
In Solano County, teachers in the Fairfield-Suisun Unified School District were fighting a battle at press time to keep the school board from voting to increase K-3 class sizes to as many as 24 students and just accept a stiff loss of state funding — and the issuing of approximately 300 teacher pink slips.
“Increasing class size is a huge step in the wrong direction,” says Melanie Driver, president of the Fairfield-Suisun United Teachers Association. “We need to keep programs that have been shown to increase student achievement.”
In Fullerton, where the school board plans to cut 73 K-3 teaching positions due to deep CSR cuts, Fullerton Elementary Teachers Association President Andy Montoya’s concerns echo those of his colleagues.
“When we lose the 20-to-1 class size ratio that will result from these cuts, our members will no longer be able to give our students the personal attention they deserve,” Montoya says. “Statistics show that only one in eight students who fall behind in first grade ever catch up without significant intervention. So whether or not I teach first grade, I know that Class Size Reduction makes a tremendous difference — most importantly to the students, but also to every teacher they will have throughout their school years.”
In Kerman Unified School District, Class Size Reduction was already eliminated in third grade some five years ago due to budget cuts resulting from district mismanagement under a previous superintendent, and now the district is talking about further eliminating it in grades K-2 due to the current financial crisis.
Kerman Unified Teachers Association President Marie Motta says the district is supposed to be making a decision soon. But the previous blow to CSR in third grade already took its toll.
“It’s very demoralizing for teachers, because we still have to meet state standards, we still are expected to show student progress, and we’re having to do it with a third more students in the class,” Motta says.
El Segundo Teachers Association President Daphne Moote is alarmed by what her school board is seriously considering.
She says El Segundo has notified 44 teachers they may not have jobs next year. Elimination of classes like foreign language will especially put people with single subject credentials at risk.
“The board is looking at the elimination of CSR for our primary grades,” Moote says, “and they’re laying off people from every grade level.”