August 9, 2011 • Vol. XXXV • No. 5
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32% of Districts Expect Larger Class
Sizes in 2011-2012, Down From Last Year

Fewer school districts will experience increased class sizes in 2011-2012 than last year due to local school board efforts to reduce non-instructional spending, shifts in enrollment and the $250 million state funding increase recommended by the governor in February, according to results of an NJSBA survey released this week.

Conducted in June, the survey reflected 2011-2012 school district budgets that had been adopted in the spring.  Responses, however, were collected prior to the addition of $150 million in school aid to the new state budget passed on June 30.  (School districts have the option of using the additional aid to restore classroom programs and staffing, which could further affect class sizes in September.)

Just under one-third (32.1%) of responding school districts indicated that class sizes will increase in 2011-2012.  In comparison, 52.9 percent reported that, in 2010-11, class sizes in their schools had increased with most pointing to that year’s sharp reduction in state education aid as the reason.

Over two-thirds (67.9%) of districts anticipate level or decreased class sizes in 2011-2012. Of these districts, 28 percent indicated that they staved off class size increases through adjustments to non-instructional spending; 23.4 percent cited decreased or level enrollment; and 17.8 percent credited rearrangement of instructional programming with preventing larger class sizes.  For 16.8 percent of the districts not anticipating class size increases, the initial state education aid increase, announced in February, was a primary factor.

Other reasons for decreased or level class size include a larger-than-anticipated number of retirements, which enables districts to hire new staff at lower salary levels, and reductions in out-of-district placement of special education students.

Reasons for Increases  For the coming school year, districts most frequently attributed anticipated class-size increases to the new 2-percent cap on property tax levy increases (30.6%), followed by enrollment increases (22.5%) and the continued impact of 2010-2011 state aid reductions (20.4%).  In comparison, close to two-thirds (63.4%) of the districts that experienced class-size increases last year cited state aid reductions as the cause.

Over 6 percent indicated that class sizes will increase next year due to their participation in the state’s inter-district school choice program, which enables districts with adequate capacity to accept students from other communities.

Areas Affected  Districts that experienced class-size increases last year and those anticipating them in 2011-2012 cited an impact at all grade levels.  However, the elementary level (Kindergarten through 6th grade) and, in particular, the primary grades (K-3) were cited more often than middle (7-8) and high school (9-12) classes.

School officials also identified program areas negatively affected through adjustments to their 2011-2012 budgets.  Art and music, foreign languages and honors/advanced placement courses were most frequently noted.

Just over 40 percent of the school officials in districts anticipating class-size increases in September indicated that it would have a negative impact on instruction.

Negative Impact on Instruction?

 

 

2010-11

2011-12

Yes

39%

40.80%

No

12.20%

20.40%

Not certain

48.80%

38.80%

Almost one-third (32.3%) of the state’s school districts were represented in the survey responses. 

Comments Following are selected comments from respondents on the status of class sizes in 2010-2011 and 2011-2012:

Our efforts to trim around the budget avoiding the areas directly hitting the students have been successful to date.  Class size is the next step and, locally, it will create a big reaction from staff and community members.  We have trimmed administrative staff back significantly to the point where I worry about their ability to effectively manage the work load due to its size.  Board President, K-12, Bergen County

A good teacher should be able to handle the increases without a loss of effectiveness.  Board Member, K-12, Mercer County

Less opportunity for teachers to interact and respond to students in the “middle” of their cohort.  The average students have very few resources to assist them.  Superintendent, K-12, Sussex County

We will not know the long-term impact on student achievement, which is the real issue at stake—not instruction.  We also experienced decidedly reduced resources in materials, supplies, and cutting back on instructional technology as per the district technology plan.  Superintendent, K-12, Bergen County

There has been enormous parental concern about class sizes, Board President, K-12, Union County

Not enough time has passed [to assess impact].  Changes of this type tend to take more than one year to be apparent, as lost instruction is cumulative.  Superintendent, Secondary District, Burlington County

Elimination of 3 teaching positions due to attrition, spreading teachers thin to provide instruction in regular ed classrooms.  Superintendent, Elementary District, Salem County

To provide our students with an optimal learning environment, class size was at the core of the decision-making process.  Sacrifices were made in non-instructional areas to preserve the integrity of the instructional program.  Superintendent, Elementary District, Monmouth County

When high school teachers have another 20 essays to read, it will certainly affect instruction—either fewer essays will be assigned, or they will not have the time to evaluate them fully.  Board President, Secondary District, Bergen County

We carefully structured our staff contracts to reflect the budget needs, resulting in no reduction [as a result of] a freeze in salaries.  Superintendent, K-12, Morris County

Every grade level will be affected along with high school AP Physics, AP Music and AP Computers, and our physical ed classes that will go from 30 per teacher to 45 students.  Board Member, K-12, Middlesex County

We were able to hire additional staff due to retirements, shifting classes and reassigning staff.  School Business Administrator, Secondary District, Bergen County

Retaining our district’s class size policy is one of our major goals and also one of the major concerns of our parents.  Board President, Elementary District, Bergen County

[Class size is] clearly at the core of what’s important in education.  However, lower class size must be coupled with effective teaching and assessment.  Superintendent, Elementary District, Bergen County

Class size will be the LAST thing to feel the effect of budget tightening in our district.  We believe keeping class sizes small is key to the great educational outcomes we have.  Board President, Elementary District, Morris County

Class size does not really make a difference in student achievement until it is reduced to 15-1 or, minimally, 17-1.  It really depends on the mix of students whether 25-1 or 30-1 [has a negative impact].  And the subject taught makes a difference.  Superintendent, Elementary District, Monmouth County

It is well proven that class size is a primary factor in learning.  Lower teacher-student ratios provide greater chances of high student achievement. Board President, Elementary District, Burlington County

We had to make programmatic changes to accommodate the larger class sizes.  I do not believe that our program is better due to the impact of larger class sizes.  Stress is very high and so are expectations.  Superintendent, Elementary District, Middlesex County

Studies have shown that class size does have an impact on student progress, especially at the early levels (K-2).  School Business Administrator, K-12, Middlesex County

Our school has always had great educational outcomes.  One reason for this is our historically smaller class sizes as compared to other districts.  There is no doubt that there is an optimal class size which directly correlates to the quality of instruction a teacher is able to deliver, thereby increasing student academic achievement and success.  Board President, Elementary District, Ocean County

We actually had decreasing enrollment and made some minor changes to instruction that let us keep class size constant.  Board President, Elementary District, Morris County

In our district, 110 teachers and administrators have been RIF-ed.  Classes will no longer be available to students and the increase in class size will affect learning ability.  Board Member, K-12, Middlesex County

Class size has been our district’s sacred cow.  We have tried to look everywhere except at class size policy when cutting expenses.  However, we are now facing declining enrollment…and we need to find creative solutions to uphold our value for smaller class sizes without sacrificing other educational opportunities.  Board President, Elementary District, Bergen County

During the past few years, we have increased the size of our 9th grade classes.  Slow increases, trying to fit them in with existing majors, new majors or merged majors.  Board President, Vocational-Technical School District

I think the effectiveness of the teacher is more important than class size.  We are focusing heavily on professional development of all teachers and the recruiting of stellar candidates for the (relatively few) open positions on our staff.  Board President, Essex County

It appears the “new normal” for my district in college preparatory classes will be class sizes of 27 to 29.  It used to be 25 or 26.  This places additional work on classroom teachers and impacts classroom climate.  Superintendent, Atlantic County

We actually have classes that are too small to be a good environment socially.  Board President, Elementary District, Monmouth County

Maintaining reasonable class sizes is a priority of our Board of Education and administration.  We are firm in our belief that a low student-to-teacher ratio is a critical component in optimizing learning.  Superintendent, Elementary District, Burlington County

As a former classroom teacher, I have first-hand evidence that class size is overrated.  Too small a class leads to little discussion and challenging of ideas and not enough motivators to encourage others to learn.  The best combination is a large class size with in-class support, and a strong school discipline policy to prevent misbehavior.  School Business Administrator, Hunterdon County

As our academic program becomes increasingly more rigorous and teachers are expected to spend more time with students individually, they need fewer students to deal with, not more.  Superintendent, K-12, Morris County

The voters can only vote “no” on school taxes, and they do so every year.  We have a great program that is effective and efficient, yet we are slowly losing it due to defeated budgets.  Good school districts that know how to be cost effective…cannot continue to operate with no funds.  We need more [state] funding.    Board President, Elementary District, Camden County

 

 

 

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