Monday, April 23, 2012

Policy Perspective: Share the Data

A2Politico (Pat Lesko's blog) has an article up, AAPS Documents Reveal Middle and High School Classes Have 40+ Students. (Right now it's not behind a paywall, but it probably will be soon.)

Lesko writes,   "[AAPS] Class size targets for 2011 were 23-25 students in grades K-2, 26-30 students in grades 3-5, and an average of 30 students in grades 6-12."

I don't think it's a surprise to anybody with students in the district that some of the classes are smaller, and some of them are larger, than the targets. A few years ago, my son (who was at Community at the time) had a physics class with 38 or 39 kids--and my main concern was that there weren't quite enough seats in the room. On the other hand, my kids have also had classes that were much, much smaller. That's how it is with averages--some classes are bigger, some are smaller. I understand the idea of a class size "target" to be an average. After all, if your average goal for a Spanish class is 30 students, at what point do you decide this class should be split in two? When you enroll 34 kids? 38 kids?

I don't want to downplay anybody's concerns with large class sizes. For instance, Lesko highlights the size of the Clague band classes. Indeed, at a recent all-city band event (I can't remember what it was called--Battle of the Bands?) I was astonished at the size of the Clague band compared to the other middle school bands. Where the other middle schools that day had an "Advanced" (grade 7/8) Band, Clague had a Grade 8 band. Yet it was still larger than the other schools' Advanced Bands. So should class sizes for those bands be examined? Probably.

And yet, of far greater to concern for me was the lengths to which Lesko had to go to learn the details about class sizes in the district. It's obvious that individual class sizes are something the district has to track. Class sizes are regulated by the teacher contract. And yet at first, Lesko was told that the district didn't have these numbers. It was only after she FOIA'd emails between administrators about parent complaints regarding class size, that she got proof that the district did have these numbers and forced the district to release them.

That, in my opinion, is the real story. Everybody is aware that class sizes have increased, and if we can't shake more money out of Lansing, or end Proposal A, that is not likely to change. On the other hand, can we expect that the district should share this information? Yes.

One more thing: Many states have laws limiting class sizes for general education classrooms. Michigan is not one of them. But I have heard from someone who wants to make class size limits the law in Michigan as well. What do you think?


  1. I think you are completely correct about Pat Lesko missing the real story, which was how nontransparent the district was with the data.
    I don't think mandating class size will help too much. I don't know anyone who thinks a big class is easy or the a goal to aspire to. Kids get lost in the crowd that way, and that's no good.
    Big classes are currently driven by budget shortfalls and union contracts, where someone loses a job before the rest take pay cuts. Do we wait until times are good again before class sizes go down? I don't like that answer myself.

  2. Sorry anon4, if this wasn't completely clear--the proposals are to CAP class sizes so they can't go above a certain size.