Proposal would cap class sizes to promote better learning

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Capital News Service
LANSING– Underperforming public schools may soon be forced to reduce class sizes to boost student performance.
A bill by Rep. Shanelle Jackson, D-Detroit, would allow the state superintendent of public instruction to order districts to cut class sizes in underperforming schools to a maximum of 17 in grades K-8 and 25 in grades 9-12.
Schools that have been unaccredited for three years, or that have failed to meet the federal standard for student achievement for at least four consecutive years, are considered underperforming under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
The bill comes at a time when Detroit Public Schools are discussing the possibility of high school class sizes reaching 60 students.
Jackson said large classes make it tough for students to learn, especially without one-on-one attention from teachers.
“Success starts in the classroom,” Jackson said  “Smaller class sizes will help our children get the close attention they need to learn, reach their full potential and become the next generation of talented Michigan workers.”
In the Cheybogan Area School District, classes average about 23 students in elementary schools and 29 in high school, according to Superintendent Mark Dombroski.
Dombroski said that the district is unable to provide the best instruction for every student due to large class sizes.
“So many kids have so many needs,” Dombroski said. “We can’t possibly provide the ideal individualized instruction to that large number.”
Robert Floden, co-director of the Education Policy Center at Michigan State University, said research shows that a reduction in class sizes has a “powerful effect on student learning.”
The bill’s maximum class sizes fits the range that would provide an increase in learning, Floden said.
However, Floden said that reducing class sizes would require hiring more teachers, a costly step, adding that in some instances that money could be used elsewhere to benefit the schools.
According to Floden, increased professional development or improved technology could be a better use of the money for certain schools.
It isn’t enough simply to limit class sizes. “To have an even  bigger effect, things need to be done to help teachers figure out what to do differently now that they have fewer kids,” Floden said.
For example, teachers need to know how to implement individualized instruction for their students.
Also, Floden said any reduction in class sizes must be carefully implemented, keeping in mind the expense of hiring teachers, as well as classroom space.
While smaller classes would help students, Cheyboygan’s Dombroski said lawmakers in Lansing are out of touch with public education, especially in the area of funding.
“They can mandate the heck out of us, but until they provide funding, I just laugh,” Dombroski said.
Jackson said she is open to changes in her bill, as well as discussions about funding.
According to Jackson, the bill will spur dialogue, but “the question isn’t how are we going to pay for it, but how can we not pay for it?”
Jackson said the state needs to spend more on education so proposals like hers can work.
“This should be part of a comprehensive solution for our students and our state,” Jackson said. “We need to figure out how we can incorporate something like this into the governor’s plan.”
The co-sponsors are Reps. Mark Meadows, D-East Lansing, and Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit.
This bill is pending in the House Education Committee.
© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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