Thursday, April 15, 2010

Stack 'em Deep and Teach 'em Cheap

The state of Arizona is experiencing its worse budget crisis in recent history. The state of Arizona has a three billion dollar deficit. Since, fifty percent of Arizona's budget is spent on education (which happens to be in the bottom five for the amount states spend on education), then the cuts will affect the field of education the greatest.

Every school district in the state has been given a directive to cut a certain amount of money from their budget. The state doesn't want to be pinned as the "bad guy", so it is making the school districts be the "bad guys". For example, in many district all day kindergarten will be discontinued because this is where most districts can make the greatest cut from their budget. When constituents call there local representatives and complain that the state discontinued kindergarten the representatives can say, "Oh, the state didn't do that. It was your school district's choice to cut all day kindergarten." I don't mind if someone screws up, admits it, says, "I'm sorry," and then works to make things better, but I really hate it when someone doesn't have the kahonies to admit to their mistakes. I SMELL A RAT!

Last year, Cartwright School District (whom I happen to work for) had to make a nine million dollar budget reduction, and this year Cartwright has to make a $7.4 million to a $9.8 million cut to the M & O budget. Of course, cuts to the M & O budget involve cuts to the school personnel which includes teachers, principals, secretaries and aides. Aides will be let go, teachers salaries will be cut, teachers will be cut, assistant principals will be cut, class sizes will increase. It is called The Stack 'em Deep and Teach 'em Cheap Theory.

I have always taught upper grades, so I am used to large class sizes. The cut off for grades four and five is 35 students which means in order to get another teacher each class has to be at 37 and one class has to be at 38. New teacher hiring for overloaded classes is generally done only at the beginning of the year. If classes become overloaded after Christmas, it is just too bad. Due to the state budget cuts, class sizes will increase. This means that the count for "regular" size class will be 37 which in turn will mean that classes will have to get to 39 and 40 before getting another teacher, and if the class sizes grow after that magical Christmas date one is up a creek without a paddle. (Primary class sizes, K, 1, 2, and 3 will be 34 and 35.) Stack 'em Deep and Teach 'em Cheap.

There has been a significant amount of research on the impact of class size on the education of children. Over the years there have been many research studies with different filters, but the one thing they all have in common is the results:
  • Reduced class size can be expected to produce increased academic achievement. (Glass and Smith)
  • The major benefits from reduced class size are obtained as the size is reduced below 20 pupils (Glass and Smith)
  • Small classes have the greatest impact when experienced in the early grades. A kindergarten or first grade class of 13 to 17 students is ideal. (Tennessee's STAR Project)
  • For minority students, smaller classes can shrink the achievement gap and lead to reduced grade retention, fewer disciplinary actions, less dropping out, and more college-entrance test taking. (Tennessee's STAR Project)
Two years ago I taught a fifth grade basic ELL (English Language Learner's) class. Most of the students in the class made two to three years progress. Seventy percent of the students Met or Exceeded the grade level standards as measured by the AIMS (Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards). That was somewhat amazing considering 25% of them spoke no English. I would like to say it was because of my magnificent teaching, but the most significant factor was I had a class of 12 students. Prior to the budget cuts it was the state's and Cartwright's belief that ELL students had a better chance of achieving, if the class sizes were kept at a minimal number. They were right. The ELL students made significant gains across the district.

Due to the budget cuts, this year's ELL class size numbers are at 25 and 30, and next year they will be at 35 and 40. Say good-bye to differentiation. Say good-bye individual instruction. Say good-bye to achievement gains. Say hello to Stack 'em Deep and Teach 'em Cheap. Our class rooms have high ceilings I am sure they will find a way to build lofts.

I do understand budget cuts, and I am losing part of my salary because of them, and I am not whining about that. But,the state of Arizona has a tendency to never go back. They continue to cut from the education budget. In my thirty-one years of teaching I have never seen the Arizona State government say, "Oooooooo, we have some extra money. Let's put in education."

Paco's Perspective

I don't talk politics.

The Flip Side

What's politics?

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