We’re all feeling a little crowded. It’s easy to notice that classes are a little bigger this year– the desks are all filled, the attendance roll is longer, and it takes a little more effort to participate in class with so many other hands in the air.
In about half of my classes, the topic of larger class sizes has been discussed. Some teachers feel overworked, some students aren’t allowed to switch out of classes they don’t want to take and there just isn’t enough time or space for meaningful one-on-one time between instructors and pupils.
It’s not the administration’s fault. It’s not the counselors’ fault, either. There are a multitude of factors that have restricted the school’s ability to keep class sizes down. The only viable option our school has to keep classes small is the creation of a Parcel Tax that includes the same class size cap of the old tax and progressive rate.
The simplest reason why class sizes have gone up is that there are more students to fit in. Counselor Amanda Carlson said the freshman class this year is bigger than any other class. She also said that these classes will continue to grow because the classes at the middle school have more students than they usually do, each having more than 200 students rather than the average of 178.
Not only are there more kids, but there’s not enough money to spare for new sections or teachers. Our school isn’t getting the funding it used to get, and now the district also has to pay up to 2 million dollars more for teacher pensions. This is why we need to look to the taxpayers to pitch in and help maintain the strength in Piedmont’s education programs.
Though the prospect of growing classes and dwindling funds is worrying, there’s no real evidence that the larger class sizes have affected Piedmont specifically. In fact, CAASPP scores keep rising. Even though the National School Boards Association concluded that with smaller classes student achievement rises, class size is not the only factor that determines achievement. According to the Washington Post, the worst public school in Manhattan has an average class of 21 while one of the best has an average of 30. We are not yet at a point where class size has a huge impact on the student body. However, I think it’s clear that we have to be proactive.
On June 30 2014, Measure B, the Parcel Tax—a tax on Piedmont home-owners based on the size of their property—expired. Measure B put tax money towards things like instating AP courses, counseling services, and directly capping class sizes. Since its expiration, classes at Piedmont High School have gotten much bigger than what they had been under Measure B, which was below the California average (30). Measure A came into effect March 5, 2013, which states that it’s supposed to keep classes “small,” but has no set limit. I think we need to reinstate Measure B’s set limit, which would guarantee that students continue the kind of education they deserve.
We also need a larger tax income in order to pay for new teachers and sections of classes, and to distribute the higher cost fairly, I think the tax should change from a fixed rate to a more progressive rate. This would mean that smaller homeowners don’t have to pay so much and the more affluent property owners can support us more.
I’m not asking for small classes. I’m asking for manageable classes. With the coming changes in the district, it’s going to get really hard to maintain the high level of education that Piedmont is used to. This is just one problem that’s going to arise, but I think it’s an important one. Large class sizes have been shown to deteriorate teacher and student motivation, depersonalize education, and make it hard for school minorities like English language learners and disabled students to succeed. Our most recent CAASPP scores actually showed that these two groups did worse than the average student, so if the district is looking to support them and their achievement, lowering class sizes would certainly help. I’m a senior and I’ll leave next year unaffected by the increases, but I worry about my brother, a freshman, and all of the students even to come after him. I would support any viable solution, but an updated Parcel Tax is the only one I can see.