CPS teachers resist bigger class sizes

June 16, 2010 (CHICAGO)

The proposal is being met with plenty of resistance from parents and teachers who say crowding classrooms with more students will only have a negative impact on the education process.

According to education experts and the latest studies on the subject, a classroom with more than 35 students will have a horrible affect on students, especially kids in poor neighborhoods or children who need special attention.

They may have graduated, but some 8th grade students at Woodlawn Charter School have returned to help their teachers clean up. When they all return in the fall their classroom size will remain the same. Keeping classes small is a priority at the public charter school run by the University of Chicago, even if it means cutting other programs.

"We have to reduce some of our after-school programs, athletics, technology, resources, books, these are things we have to sacrifice to keep classroom size down," said Shane Evans, Woodlawn Charter's principal.

Charter schools have the flexibility to spend their money the way they want. Teachers at Woodlawn say they are willing sacrifice to keep classes between 20-27 students. Teachers Koai Mathews and Deirdre Brown say they could not imagine teaching 35 kids.

"To have 35-40 kids is a disservice to the kids," said Matthews.

"With the wide range of students, where they come from, what their foundation is, it may be more likely if every student was on the same level and they know that that is definitely not the case," said Brown.

To close a $600 million budget gap the Chicago school board has given its CEO the green light to lay off teachers and raise class sizes to 35 students if need be. Does class size have an effect on a student's education? Or is it about the quality of the teacher?

"Even a great teacher can't do the things they can do if they have 25 or 28 kids in the classroom. That's just common sense and it's also borne out by the research evidence," said Tim Knowles, director, Urban Education Institute at University of Chicago.

Knowles says the impact of 35 plus class sizes at Chicago Public Schools will be devastating.

"The evidence does bear out that there are significant negative effects for poor kids particularly, and for kids who need targeted attention," said Knowles.

Knowles says at the high school level teaching more than 35 kids will take a lot of extra time. He says if an English teacher teaches five periods, that is 175 kids. He says taking 20 minutes to grade 175 essays adds up to 60 hours a week.

Chicago Public Schools says is they do go to 35 kids in a class, kindergarten to 3rd grade will be the priority in reducing class size.

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