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Disappointment in Florida

It was close. Florida needed 60% of voters to agree to revise the current state mandates for class-size and they only got 54.68%. While it’s entirely understandable that voters who care about education would want class-size mandates, we see this result as unfortunate for Florida’s educators and students. It is counter-intuitive, but mandated class sizes can actually harm children’s education, especially with today’s fiscal challenges. Here’s why:

1. Teaching Quality Matters More

We find that rigid class size mandates often work against teaching quality because they force the addition of more staff rather than investments and support of existing teachers. Most parents and students would choose a class with a few more pupils taught by a great teacher. And most teachers would choose to add a few more students in place of teaching an extra class to meet state mandates.

2. It’s not about class size, it’s about individual attention

Creative high-performing schools are breaking away from the single teacher, single classroom all day model to group students in different ways throughout the day, week and over their career depending on student needs and the subject matter. To redirect individual attention to priority areas, some groups might be much larger than typical class size mandates with teachers that have the right skills to match the task. Other students might be working independently or in small student-led groups. Class size mandates make any creative grouping impossible.

3. Mandates Necessitate Costs that Districts Can’t Afford

These costs include hiring more teachers and providing additional classrooms. Just this past September Broward County was forced to use $13 million from federal stimulus funds to hire 460 new teachers to meet the class size requirement.  How will Broward find this additional funding next year when budgets will most likely be cut again? It’s just not sustainable.

4. District Leaders Need Flexibility to Make the Most of What They Have

District budgets are tight and getting tighter. Forcing educators to conform to a strict model of one teacher and a limited number of students doesn’t give the flexibility necessary to make the most of every teacher and every hour. We need to give school leaders the flexibility to make decisions that target resources to provide individual attention in the subjects for the lessons that it works best for and to free resources for investing more in the best teachers.

Class size has become the ubiquitous measure of school quality—as the indicator of how much individual attention students receive and thus the quality of education. And voters think they are being good citizens voting to maintain class sizes and making sure that the state invests in schools. But our experience shows that these tough times demand flexibility and creativity.

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