Inside: Class Size

NEW YORK EFFORT

The head of the union representing New York City teachers is urging her membership to tell New York state legislators that reducing class size is the union's top priority.

Randi Weingarten, president of the United Federation of Teachers, has told her membership that because of the election of a governor that supports more education funding and more equitable funding for New York City schools, now is the best opportunity to make significant progress in reducing the average number of students in a classroom.

New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, in his inaugural address last month, cited class-size reduction as one of the areas where more efforts are needed.

“All of us in this chamber know that smaller class size matters, especially for younger students,” Spitzer told state legislators.

A court ruling has ordered the state to increase funding to the New York City school system — the nation's largest — by at least $1.9 billion. Spitzer has said he will increase spending by more than that; Weingarten has urged lawmakers to devote at least $1 billion of the new funding to class-size reduction.

ILLINOIS PILOT

Illinois has created a pilot project to reduce class sizes in kindergarten through third grade at academically struggling schools.

The program would provide grants averaging $50,000 per classroom to reduce the number of students in a class to 15.

The average class size in Illinois in 2005 was 21 for kindergarten, 21.5 in first grade, and 22 in third grade, state officials say.

“Studies and common sense both show that kids do better in smaller classes,” says Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. “Smaller classes means that teachers can spend more time focusing on each student and less time trying to manage too many kids at once.”

The money will pay for teacher salaries and benefits. To be eligible, a school must be on Academic Watch or Academic Early Warning status. Schools can either use the grant for the same grade levels for each year of the program, or they can follow a specific group of students from kindergarten through second grade or first grade through third grade.

Illinois has allocated $10 million for the program in fiscal 2007. State education officials expect that about a third of the funds will go to schools in Chicago; another third will go to suburban districts in the Chicago area, and the remainder will go to schools in the rest of the state.

FLORIDA PROGRESS

Florida schools have been successful in reducing class sizes in public schools, but in 2006-07 are faced with meeting tougher requirements.

Since the state-mandated class-size reduction began in 2003-04, “districts have shown significant progress,” state education commissioner John Winn said in a November memo to the state's school superintendents. From February 2003 to October 2006, average K-3 class size has dropped by 6.12 students; average grade 4-8 class size has dropped by 4.75 students; and average grade 9-12 class size has dropped by 1.91 students.

But starting in 2006-07, compliance with the class-size mandates is based on school-level data instead of districtwide averages. Winn's November memo said that 177 traditional public schools and 88 charter schools in the state were not in compliance with the state's class-size requirements.

SHRINKING CLASS SIZE IN FLORIDA

2002-03 2003-04 2004-05 2005-06 2006-07
Grades preK-3 23.07 20.54 18.98 18.16 16.95
Grades 4-8 24.16 22.43 21.30 20.48 19.41
Grades 9-12 24.10 24.06 23.65 22.96 22.19
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