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Despite Subsidies, Class Sizes Rise in California Schools

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Posted on Nov 19, 2009

By Louis Freedberg and Hugo Cabrera, California Watch

(Page 2)

One purpose was to bring California’s class sizes down — to get them in line with those of other states. That did happen in the elementary grades. But by 2007, California had larger student-teacher ratios than every state except Utah and Arizona across all 12 grades.

Larger K-3 class sizes now threaten to push California even further behind.

“Having the largest class size in America is a crime and a shame,” said Delaine Eastin, the former superintendent of public instruction who oversaw the implementation of the class-size-reduction initiative until 2002.

It is not only poor districts that are affected. In fact, in some cases, districts serving large numbers of low-income and minority students have benefited from the additional $1.25 billion in Title 1 stimulus funds California receives from the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. 

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And nearly 500 of the state’s lowest-performing schools are still receiving funds from the Quality Education Investment Act, passed by the Legislature in 2007. These funds have allowed school districts like Los Angeles to maintain some of their K-3 class sizes at previous levels. The Fremont Unified School District has so far been able to keep class sizes to 20 in the first, second and third grades. But in kindergarten, enrollments have risen to 30. 

This year, at Oliveira Elementary, Accurso has her students sitting in groups of six, at five tables, instead of groups of four, at five tables, as in previous years.  Across the yard, one of the bungalows brought to the school when the class-size reduction program began in 1996, now stands empty.

But Accurso isn’t nostalgic about the smaller class sizes.

“My focus is on the 30 kids I have in front of me and what I can do for each of them,” she said. “I can’t be thinking about what might have been. I can’t go there.”

She says she is managing with the extra kids — in part because she gets help from another teacher for about two hours, as well as parent volunteers. “We’re just worried that we won’t be able to get them where they need to be at the end of the year,” she said.

In Los Angeles, each of the district’s 524 elementary schools could choose between retaining all their teachers and keeping class sizes low — or laying off teachers and keeping support staff such as school nurses, math coaches and “intervention coordinators.” At Plummer Elementary in the San Fernando Valley, principal Angel Barrett made the painful choice to let go seven of the school’s first and second year teachers, out of a teaching staff of 45. As in many schools across Los Angeles, her classrooms are more crowded this year.

“You guys are doing a great job at listening,” Norma Plascencia, a teacher with 22 years of classroom experience, told her 24 second-graders on a recent morning, before launching into a lesson about family trees. 

“It doesn’t make it impossible to teach, it just makes it harder,” she said. Plascencia said she and other teachers are doing much more advance planning to take into account the extra students. “We are not mass-producing items; we’re not making shoes or pizza. We are dealing with human beings — so four extra bodies are not just four extra bodies — it is everything that comes with them, or doesn’t come with them.”

Will it affect how her students will do this year?

“It better not,” she said. “You have to assume they can reach for the stars. Are some going to fall by the wayside?  We’ll find out this year. Is there a possibility? Yes, I think there is.’’

Her comment points to the controversy that has so far been waged mostly in academic circles — whether class-size reduction makes a difference in boosting student performance. Dominic Brewer, a USC professor, said there is no compelling research showing that class-size reduction results in improved academic performance in California.  What research does exist has typically been done in other states and in classrooms with even smaller enrollments than in California.

“A class of 20 may be terrible for an ineffective teacher,” he said. “And a great teacher can do great things with 30.”

Some education leaders who have been lukewarm about the program are now making the case that the funds could be better used. 

“I don’t think 20-to-1 is sacred,” said L.A. schools Superintendent Ramon Cortines. More important, he said, “is the kind of quality time you spend with your students, and how you divide your time in the classroom.” To tackle high drop-out rates, he believes the real need is for smaller classes in middle and high schools, where class sizes in his district have soared to 40 and higher in some schools. 

San Jose’s Iglesias said that even if the state’s economy rebounds, he’s not sure he’d put money back into the class-size-reduction program. “I’d put it into longer school days or Saturday classes rather than this,” he said.

But California superintendent O’Connell doesn’t share any of these concerns. He said his experience as a teacher in Ventura County convinced him of the merits of smaller classes.

The same goes for Doug Wheeler, a veteran kindergarten teacher in San Pablo, just north of Richmond, who said that the larger the class, the more difficult it is for teachers to “deliver the goods.” This year he volunteered to take more students into his bilingual class rather than having some of them be cut from the program. He now has 27 students.

“Teaching is not just standing in front of the class and delivering a lesson,” he said. “It’s about working with kids who are in danger of falling far behind. To get really good results, it has to be one on two, or even one on one.”

California Watch is an investigative reporting unit with offices in the Bay Area and Sacramento. It is a project of the Center for Investigative Reporting.

This story was edited by Editorial Director Mark Katches and copy edited by William Cooley.


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By school stickers, August 18, 2011 at 2:15 am Link to this comment

30 students in one class is at the upper end of approved class sizes. Does this make it right for a solid and sound education, probably not. Teachers rely on the support from parents and others home based study to ensure all students obtain the understanding and knowledge.

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By Property for sale Phuket, May 31, 2011 at 11:39 pm Link to this comment

What a shame to hear of this news! I imagine one of the contributing factors is cost of products increase, cost of security and safety practices also may play a role here. And add this to the already struggling economic system and we have larger numbers with fewer teachers. The education system is accountable for its performance and gee, if they are not performing or achieving, funding is reduced. I will also add that I am personally aware of five teachers from the Californian school system and they are now teaching overseas in english for a second language programe. Their reasoning is that there is limited work in the own country for educators.  Where does this leave the teachers of the next generation. Or do we see a down size in teacher training. The cycle goes around and around.

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By Jenibelle, April 26, 2011 at 9:18 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

AFAICT you’ve covered all the bases with this aswner!

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By Sam House, January 12, 2011 at 11:59 pm Link to this comment

The California school systems have been in a state of critical near-collapse long before this latest crisis. It seems that even in the most liberal of states the message that our country’s future depends on the education of our children is lost like a whisper in a maelstrom. I can only imagine the morass of ignorance and stupidity as it rises to our necks in a few years and we suddenly discover there are no qualified or intelligent people left to adequately run our essential services.

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By mandinka, November 24, 2009 at 3:08 pm Link to this comment

No virginia the right isn’t anti education… Why did the majority of a leftist, democratic state turn down tax increases in the last election. Hmmmmm let me guess they realize that the problem isn’t not enough tax money but too much spending. Why should CA taxpayers fund illegals college education? Mexico should be forced to pay the difference fro nonresident rates.
We have public education in Ca wasting $$$ on ebonics and huge bureaucracies. Trim administration and go back to a normal education and there will be enough $$

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Virginia777's avatar

By Virginia777, November 24, 2009 at 12:57 pm Link to this comment

Public education is under attack and has been for a long, long time. This is only the outcome of that. The media has been ruthless and the right has been on the march against public education. Its time to wake up to that, and to fight it.

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By G.Anderson, November 22, 2009 at 7:22 am Link to this comment

For those hoping against hope that California’s economy will improve, forget it.

When industry left California for elsewhere, real estate became one of the few ways that people could make money, this caused a real estate boom. The state cashed in on this, through real estate taxes.

Now wages will no longer support, high real estate prices. With unemployment, continuing to rise, and an increasing pool of illiterate workers, unable to find any work at all, there are not going to be any solutions to this.

Commerical real estate is going to collapse next, and since money for education is directly related to real estate, the educational system will continue to accelerate toward the bottom.

California, is ungovernable, because of ideological battles between liberals and conservatives. Neither group has the brains to see whats coming.

Bankrupcy for the state, and for the counties when the state deficit goes to $21 billion dollars next year, and beyond. But hold on to your ideology, that’s all you’ll have left.

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By JeffersonSmith, November 22, 2009 at 12:22 am Link to this comment

Dear Mandinka,

I did not mean to imply that education is primarily a Federal responsibility; however, since the creation of the Federal Department of Education and espescially since the enaction of the “No Child Left Behind Act”, the Federal Government has been actively involved in creating programs and promulgating law that directly impacts both budgets and standards in education.

I used the example of Goldman Sachs simply to illustrate that there are inequities in the tax system and significant areas of tax policy and regulation that needs to be changed to have a rational tax policy.  Also, mentioned defense spending in the same context, billions of dollars spent for little domestic advantage, but that’s another argument.

The United States has a GDP of over $15 trillion and if our tax policies were harmonized and properly targeted we would not need to even have this argument.  Corporations and other specialized investment entities get tax treatment that would boggle your mind.  For example, we pay corporations to relocate manufacturing plants overseas and don’t tax profits or income unless those corporations repatriate the earnings of the relocated entities to the US.  This allows companies to reduce employment in the US; thereby, destroying the US tax base, while at the same time reducing or eliminating corporate tax liability here.

Percentages can be misleading, prior to Proposition 13 the percentage of teacher’s compensation to the overall school budgets in California was approximately 65%. Does that mean that teachers’ compensation has grown so much that it has squeezed out other needs or programs, or that the overall budget has been distorted by budget cuts and population growth, which has had a negative effect on total pupil spending?  Since total spending per pupil in constant dollars has actually declined since 1975 (the year of the enaction of Proposition 13) I would suggest it is the latter.

Your suggestion to cut funding for higher education to divert it to support K-12 might have value if California wasn’t cutting the higher education budget by 30% already.  By the way “illegals” do not make up a significant proportion of UC, CSU or Community College students, despite what you may have heard.

Joblessness, plunging real estate values, tax inequity, and poor governance are the reasons for this problem, not illegals.  Until these issues are addressed America and California will be at risk and future generations will not have a better life than their forebearers, and we are responsible. So what kind of America do you want?  That’s the only question that really matters…

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By mandinka, November 21, 2009 at 10:02 pm Link to this comment

Jeff, CA budget deficiets are in the $20/30 Billion range. The question isn’t is education a good thing of course it is, in most school systems payroll accounts for 80% of the budget, so if cuts are to be made I’m not suggesting that teacher pay be addressed but rather the level and size of the administrators. Those are where the fat is and where the large salaries are as well.
We spend billions on weapons systems because they are needed and spelled out in the constitution provide for the national defense. education isn’t a Fed responsibility so I’m not sure how either the military or Wall Street fits into the equation.
Like it or not CA over pays its workers and until they are willing to fix that the budget will continue on this disastrous cycle.          State spending has increased 40% since Arnold was elected and the taxpayers have defeated every budget initative that would raise taxes. So the real question is just what doesn’t the legislature understand about the level of spending.
K-12 spending has been reduced by 25% at the state level but higher ed has only been reduced by 5%. If the K-12 only needs an added $500M then taking the $$ from higher ed would be the right move and let illegals pay out of state tuition, that by the way is the society that the majority of all voters desire

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By JeffersonSmith, November 21, 2009 at 6:58 pm Link to this comment

Dear Mandinka, Clearly the question to be asked is not whether taxes are a burden, they are; the question is: what kind of society we want and are we willing to pay for it?

Educating our people is clearly a social good, do we want a populace hindered by lack of access to good schools and teachers? No.

We spend billions of tax dollars to build weapons systems and mitigate risky behavior on “Wall Street”, but not for education?

500 million dollars is the shortfall in the California budget that is supposedly causing this problem, that is 1.5% of the amount Goldman Sachs alone is going to pay in bonuses this year, and you believe that this corporation shouldn’t be taxed to support education?

The corporate contribution in 2008 to the California tax pool was 15% of the total amount of income taxes paid by all Californians. In 1972 it was 29%, when prices and wages were significantly better, adjusted in constant dollars, and California could pay its way.

Also, corporate profits are taxed, not the elements that compose prices, the pass through argument is subject to market forces that act independently of tax rates.  You cannot pass through all taxes, they serve as a social limit on profit and help halt the concentration of wealth, which is a good thing!
 
Money is power and your real argument is that the individual should have the ability to gain as much power as he can by increasing personal wealth…“The Devil take the hindmost.” 

People are self interested and should be motivated to better their lives; however, not at the expense of the society as a whole.  Clearly, we cannot live together without providing for the “general welfare” as stated in the Constitution. America and California are societies not anarchies and we need to start providing intelligently for our society before it dissolve into anarchy.

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By mandinka, November 21, 2009 at 12:30 pm Link to this comment

Dear jeff, last night I went to a movie and a dinner and didn’t meet 1 corporation or real estate investor. Those are entities not citizens and entities don’t ‘pay’ taxes they just pass them on. Tax real estate more then rents go up, tax corporations then the cost of goods and services go up. Like most of the liberal left you fail to understand cause and effect.
CA budget problems are just that a family that spends more than they earn. If in your house hold you bring in $100 and your family ants to spend $500 you have problems then you have problems.
The voters in CA consistently vote not to increase their taxes to pay for social programs. Just what don’t the politicians and liberals get?? You have public system that rewards its employees as if they were wall street entrepreneurs, rather than as blue collar workers.
The regents in CA allowed illegals to get instate tuition and then they complain that the colleges need more funds to pay the professors.
The saga there is never ending a militant group demands more and the legislature rolls over and then realizes they don’t have the money.
I don’t feel 1 bit sorry for the citizens of CA their social policies not tax structure have caused all the problems

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By ChaoticGood, November 20, 2009 at 9:13 pm Link to this comment

Jefferson, I applaud your attempts at a rational discussion with the irrational.  If we all could have your patience we would all be the better for it.

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By JeffersonSmith, November 20, 2009 at 8:14 pm Link to this comment

Dear Mandinka, A “taxophobe” would be someone who is afraid of taxes. I am not and I have been a tax paying citizen off and on in California since 1973. I have also lived in and paid taxes in Maryland, New York and England.  I don’t like paying more than my fair share; however, I am sure tht corporations and corporate and private real estate investors do not. I strongly believe tht if we had arationqal tax system that actually paid for the services we consume from government that most people would see its benefit.  By the way, Steny Hoyer was my Congressman for awhile and I think he is both reasonable and sensible. Having a failing education system, failing streets, roads and bridges, and an electorate that demands more services from the gov ernment than they are willing to support is a bad situation.  Characterizing people you disagree with by calling them the names of systems you don’t understand, does not contribute to solving problems-just venting. If you would like to talk about solutions I would engage in that discussion.  If you want to call me a bum and a Communist, I won’t engage in that discussion…

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By mandinka, November 20, 2009 at 7:48 pm Link to this comment

dear jeff, as a taxaphobe you would think that eventually that your concept of governance would have faded. Your response is ala Stenny Hoyer that you have never met a tax you didn’t like. Of course the caveat always is as long as You don’t have to pay the tax.
Look at barak cabinet and the democratic congress, they love passing laws increasing taxes but they don’t pay them. The healthcare bill is typical liberal thinking they ask people how it should be paid for and the majority said “tax the wealthy”.
Far to many dems think that communism is preferable to capitalism.
If you believe the solution to CA problem isn’t illegals why not have them move in with you and you pay for their education in private schools and pay their medical bills

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By JeffersonSmith, November 20, 2009 at 5:51 pm Link to this comment

Mandinka, race baiting and xenophobia are not solutions.  Rejecting the policies of benign neglect that have characterized the governance of California and crippled our schools is essential to solving the fiscal problems of the state.  Blaming this on “Mexico” and “illegals” is both hateful and unproductive. I have watched California being systematically hamstrung by tax and education policies that are archaic and unproductive since the commercial real estate interests in this state hoodwinked the people with Proposition 13.  Playing the race card all the way, first with “Welfare Queens” and subsequently against “illegals”, to justify policies that only benefit the wealthy.  Stop hating and start thinking!

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By mandinka, November 20, 2009 at 3:53 pm Link to this comment

Loud protests are being heard from Mexico and they are demanding that their illegals not to be subjected to these class size increase. They are demanding that they be placed in classes of no more than 10. They also want expedited Healthcare for illegals

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By JeffersonSmith, November 20, 2009 at 11:17 am Link to this comment

There is no governance or tax policy worthy of the name in the state of California. Decades of public policy neglect and rule by “initiative” has created exactly what Republican policy makers want: a government drowning in its own debt, unable to provide basic services to the public it’s supposed to serve. The lack of a reasonable and balanced tax policy has now created validation for the Republican credo that government is the problem.

Cowardly Democrats have not called anyone out on either a state or national level on this issue and continue to pander to corporate greed over public need.  I weep for my children.

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By ChaoticGood, November 19, 2009 at 7:22 pm Link to this comment

Another “pennywise” solution from Republicans fails in the long term.  From the stupid “No Child left behind” debacle to the underhanded funding of the religious right by promoting home schooling, the Republicans have destroyed the great leveler that was the public school system.

Now the USC system is cutting 50,000 students next year and raising the tuition by 30%.  We sure have money to blow up Arabs and imprison pot dealers, don’t we.

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