Unwilling to reopen a five-year contract that gives pay raises to teachers, Chicago’s school board is tackling a $427 million deficit by letting class sizes go up to 35 students.
Larger classes will allow schools to lay off 2,700 teachers and 300 non-teachers. Already, 800 non-union workers have lost their jobs and others have given up 6 percent of their income in furloughs and pay freezes.
The district is hoping for union concessions, but is unwilling to risk a strike by rescinding a 4 percent pay raise. Union leaders call the move “educational malpractice.”
When I grew up in the Chicago suburbs during the baby-boom era, class sizes in the 30s were common in junior high and high school. My fifth-grade class had 37 students, though that was unusual. (And did not work well.) We were very compliant kids, of course.
When my daughter was in school in Palo Alto in the ’90s, she had classes in the 30s in middle and high school. Her seventh-grade pre-algebra class started with 43 students — and an incompetent teacher. It dropped to the 30s because so many kids left to take Education Program for Gifted Youth‘s home-based algebra class instead. The teacher left before the end of the year for “health reasons.” Again, Palo Alto students tend to be well-behaved learners, especially in the honors track.
On average, students don’t learn more in a class of 30 versus a class of 35, but there has to be less wear and tear on teachers.