Chicago allows 35 in a class

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.

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  1. Charles R. Williams says:

    Every class in the K-8 elementary school I attended had 35-36 students. The parochial school in my neighborhood got better results with 50 per class.

  2. My small-town school had about 35 per class and my husband’s urban parochial school had 100, many of whom had non-English-speaking families (complete immersion; no ESL or any other language resources). In both cases, one teacher, no aides and no volunteers. However, in both cases the school population was stable and the kids overwhelmingly came from intact, two-parent families (widowhood excepted). Kids came to school with appropriate behavior patterns, they expected to concentrate and work hard and parents demanded it. Self-control was an absolute virtue; self-expression and self-esteem weren’t mentioned.

  3. In part, it depends on what is being taught. The work load for composition teachers must be close to proportional to the number of students being taught. But there are subjects for which this is not true.

    (For instance, I recall reading, years ago, about a college teacher with large chorus class, which met for an hour a week and had literally hundreds of students. The extra numbers weren’t much of a burden, except when it came to grading. (There were no written exams or assignments.)

    The school required letter grades, so the teacher adopted the following simple scheme: If she remembered the student pleasantly, she gave them an “A”. If she remembered them unpleasantly, she gave them a “C”. If she couldn’t remember them, she gave them a “B”.)

  4. Go up to 35 students?

    I have regularly had classes of 37 for the past ten years and this year many classes have as many as 40 kids in them.

  5. Anon for this one says:

    I don’t know about class sizes, but the pay scale in Chicago is obscene. I have a friend in her mid 40s who teaches middle school PE in the Chicago Public School system; she’s making in the mid $80K range.

  6. My AP classes are creeping up to those kinds of numbers (and I teach composition). There’s a point around 30 where I can’t divide up my attention enough and some kids get lost in the crowd. I hate that. I also start doing more peer review, etc., which I think is less effective than my feedback, but has the virtue of at least keeping them writing more than I can keep up with.

    Yes, the wear and tear on the teacher is increased. On average, the learning is probably about the same, but I just can’t get to the one or two kids for whom the personal relationship would have made a difference.

  7. SuperSub says:

    A couple thoughts… in a well organized class led by a competent teacher, 35 students shouldn’t be impossible. It will be a major adjustment, though, for teachers who haven’t experienced large classes. I also foresee a drop in the number of student-centered art projects as they become a major hassle with large class sizes. Perhaps this will improve student learning in the long run.

    This is a perfect example of how unions cannibalize their young. Because the movers and shakers were unwilling to make concessions in pay, younger teachers with less seniority had to be laid off. The union leadership is more concerned with padding their retirement than the welfare of all their members.


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