Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Equalizing K-12 Class Size

September 27, 2011, 8:20 a.m.

Many Advantages of Cluster Schools

The Press-Citizen reports this morning that class sizes in the Iowa City Community School District's elementary schools vary from 13 to 33 students. That is a needless irritant for students, parents, teachers, and principals alike. Rob Daniel, "Area schools adjusting to varying class sizes; District still able to provide adequate instruction," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 27, 2011, p. A1.

When it comes to unequal class sizes, as this story illustrates, the District’s central administration, principals and teachers have been extraordinarily creative and constructive given the hand they’ve been dealt by the Board.

There are simple solutions that could create almost precisely equal class sizes throughout the District.

Large classes involve two separate issues.

One is the District’s “average” class size – a number that’s determined by the simple math of dividing the total number of elementary school students in the District by the total number of elementary school teachers. The only way to reduce that average number is to hire more teachers.

The other involves the disparity in class sizes between classrooms in different schools (or within a school) illustrated in this article.

One solution to that problem is cluster schools. That’s an approach that can only be undertaken by the School Board, with its new membership.

Cluster schools have a number of additional advantages in addition to equalizing class sizes across the District. As I have summarized elsewhere, they could:
• Be politically feasible, minimize family disruption, and maximize developers' and realtors' advance notice, by implementing them gradually over, say, three to six years.

• Reduce busing costs.

• Cut administrative costs by two-thirds.

• Equalize grades' class size.

• Reduce overcrowding and equalize percentage occupancy of schools.

• Provide central administration flexibility in assigning students to schools.

• Maintain present schools while minimizing taxpayers' burden for costly new ones.

• More nearly equalize each school's percentage of free-and-reduced-lunch students.
For more explanation and details see, Nicholas Johnson, "District needs cluster schools," Iowa City Press-Citizen, June 3, 2009, embedded in "Cluster Schools: Potential for IC District?" June 3, 2009; and "Disparity in Class Sizes: Simple Solution Rejected; Community's Choice is 'Patch and Mend,'" October 13, 2010.

As the heading on that last blog entry indicates, the idea was not even given enough consideration to be rejected by the last Board. And I won't be stunned if it's ignored by the "new Board" as well.

But the point is not so much the value of the precise details of this particular cluster schools approach. It is that, with 15,000 school districts throughout America out there, there are few problems that the ICCSD confronts that have not been experienced, addressed, resolved and reported on by at least one other Board, somewhere, at some time.

It's the Board members' job to make a regular investment of time -- as individuals and as a Board -- researching, reading, reporting, discussing, and trying out as pilot projects the innovative ideas and programs that other Districts are adding to the growing list of "what works."

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