Fixing large class sizes in Eugene School District 4J can be like “moving around deck chairs on the Titanic,” 4J School Board Chair Anne Marie Levis said at a Feb. 25 meeting.
Parents, teachers and staff from across the district filled the library at Edison Elementary School last Thursday to discuss class sizes in the 30s at the elementary school level. No clear answers came out of the meeting, although school officials suggested that parents write letters to 4J’s Budget Committee and to the Oregon Legislature.
Parents from Camas Ridge and Gilham elementary schools, among others, voiced their concern with the large elementary class sizes they observe in their children’s classrooms.
According to data from the Oregon Department of Education, the median class size at Camas Ridge is 30.5 students, although fourth and fifth grade classes see a median of 32 students. At Gilham, the numbers show a median of 37.5 students in kindergarten.
It’s difficult to pinpoint an ideal number for elementary class sizes, but research suggests that large class sizes can impede learning. A study co-authored by former University of Oregon education professor Douglas Ready indicated that children in large classes, defined as 25 or more students, learn less than children in medium or small classes.
Levis and Kerry Delf with 4J identified two barriers to lowering class sizes: finding additional classroom space and allocating funding for hiring more teachers.
Levis said the School Board will discuss putting another school bond to Eugene voters in order to fund new schools or additional classrooms, but 4J has to wait until the current bond sunsets, so the bond wouldn’t appear until the 2018 ballot.
“The answer is really at the state level,” said Tom Maloney, principal of Camas Ridge. “That’s where the money is.”
He pointed out that in order for 4J to allocate resources to reduce class size at the elementary level, the district would have to remove funding from some other area.
The meeting concluded with discussion among parents of state-level funding fixes like Initiative Petition 28, which proposes to raise taxes on corporations. Other suggestions included a statewide gas tax and the reallocation of Oregon’s “kicker” tax rebate to K-12 education.
“The meeting left me feeling like 4J understands and hears our concerns, but we still have a lot of work to do to advocate for our youngest students and their teachers,” says Heather Sielicki, a Camas Ridge parent. “It doesn’t make sense to me that the ratio of students assigned to elementary, middle and high school home room teachers varies so little. We know K-3 students are the ones who benefit most from smaller class sizes.”
The next 4J Budget Committee meeting is in May. See 4J’s website for more details.