Friday, January 15, 2010

19 my Aunt Fanny.

They really need to rephrase the term “Average Class Size”, or find a more informative way of calculating it.

I just got done adjusting my seating charts for the second semester, which starts Tuesday.  Of my four 8th grade classes, two have 40 students, and two have 39 students.  My 9th grade class has a scant 36 students in it.

Then I’m in reading the Salt Lake Tribune, where they reported that the average class size for secondary schools last year was “19 students a class.”  That’s one more student than half my smallest class.  A more accurate, and less deceptive, way of stating that number would be “19 students per certified staff member.”

Here’s the problem with that number, they figure it by taking the number of students registered and dividing it by the number of staff members on teacher contracts, including the ones with no class loads.  Counselors are on teacher contracts.  Librarians are on teacher contracts, so are the School Technology Specialists.  They don’t differentiate between classroom teachers and these other positions. When you also consider the smaller class sizes of Special Ed, Youth in Custody and other at-risk specific classes, you get an incredibly distorted impression of the the class size most of our students are in.

I’d like to see the stats from actual class rolls for your mainstream classes.  That would give you an accurate idea of what the majority of the students see in all their classes, and I’d guarantee it’s a lot more than 19.  Or at least word it so that the general public doesn’t picture classrooms with less than 20 students in them, and wonder why all these teachers are complaining about “stack ‘em deep and teach ‘em cheap.”



A Paperback Writer said...

Unless it is a specialty class (SPED or ESL, for example), our school cancels all classes of less than 22.
Still even with our average of "22" (ha, ha), Maine's average is still "9," which means they probably do have a lot of classes with 22 kids in them.
Wanna move to Maine?

Max said...

Ok, let's go. Though you know it'll never happen. I tried to get out of Utah 9 years ago, was going to move to Vegas, but ended up at your school instead.

TM.Cavalier said...

Unfortunately it is a problem of revenue. According to this site(1), Utah spends over $8,000 per student per year. As an actual teaching staff member, you have to come up with the revenue to pay your salary, your building and maintenance costs, as well as the salaries of other support people in your district.

For example, your average classroom size for the day is 38.x students. 38*$8000 = $304,000 in district revenue. Let's assume that the "real cost"(2) of your salary and your portion of the building/maintenance was $104,000 a year. That leaves $200,000 extra to pay for other admin / librarians / counselors / new district building.

Now if we assume the perfect classroom size was 22 students, then 22x$8000 is $176,000 district revenue per classroom. Subtracting the "real costs" that leaves us with $72,000 a year extra to pay for everything else. Since this would effectively double the amount of classes that means we earn $144,000 in extra revenue instead of the $200,000 that your class currently generates.

So, for the 22 students per classroom to work, the district would need to cut 28% of its overhead or the per student spending by the state would have to increase by 16% per year (an additional $707 million/year total). Both highly unlikely.

* Any math errors in this post are the responsibility of public education system. :)
(2) "Real Cost" = Pulling numbers out of my butt.

Max said...

TMC - that's a whole different discussion - the whys of classroom size and validity/possibility of lowering class sizes. I do like your (fittingly numbered) "2) Pulling numbers out of my butt."
I just wanted to get across that saying that class sizes are "19 students a class" gives the general public the wrong impression of how many students their kids are sharing the teachers with. For an honest debate about class size, it needs to be known that the majority of students are in classes with a lot more than 18 other kids, at least double that for my students this year.

TM.Cavalier said...

For that debate to occur, the district/union needs to be honest with the "actual number" of teachers. If a librarian has a "0" students teaching responsibility, then they are not a teacher, but admin/staff. If a counselor/nurse/aide/technologist doesn't actually teach, then they should not be part of the "teacher" pool.

If the truth came out that the average classroom size is still 40 students after the last 10 years of per student spending increases (60%+ increase over the last 10 years) the Utah taxpayer isn't going to be too happy. Especially when the Union/District holds out for more education spending.

Now if this discussion is about Journalism in the 21st century then that is a whole different can of worms...

Max said...

It's not really a matter of the district being dishonest about the number of teachers, it's more about how they classify their employees. Counselors, teachers and librarians are all on the same contract, all paid from the same pay scale. Administrators have their own contract and pay scale, as do secretaries, custodians and the lunch ladies. When you ask for "teachers", you get everyone classified as a teacher, to differentiate you would have to check out each individual to see if they have a class load, which gets complicated when you consider that some people do half & half positions.
I meant it to be a discussion of having meaningful numbers, rather than simple calculations. In Utah, 19 students per class is not a meaningful number, and can even be a misleading number. Most secondary school classes have much more than 19 students. Whatever the reason, whosever fault it is, the number does not accurately reflect the experience of the majority of Utah students.
And just for the sake of clarifying numbers, that 60% increase in spending is another number that doesn’t fully reflect the situation. When you factor in inflation and the increase in student population, at least when I did, I got a 15% increase since 1999. The argument over whether the taxpayer is getting their money’s worth for that 15% is, as you so aptly put it, a whole different can of worms.
If you are interested in where I got that 15% number, and the links to the information I used for the calculations, you can check it out at :