Proposed class size cap under scrutiny

At its regular monthly meeting Tuesday night, the Northwest Catholic District School Board examined a report on the possible effects of a proposed plan to place a “hard cap” on the number of students in classes from JK to Grade 3.
Premier Dalton McGuinty has proposed capping the number of elementary students in a classroom at 20 in an effort to improve education across the province.
Under current regulations, boards must ensure the average class size in JK to Grade 3 does not exceed 24.
While an average means some classrooms may have slightly more than 24 while some have slightly less, a “hard cap” would mean no classroom could have more than 20 students.
“The idea that smaller class sizes improve student learning has an intuitive feel, but the research is not conclusive,” Superintendent of Education Al Cesiunas wrote in his report.
“There are many variables to consider and implementation presents a complex set of challenges,” he added.
To begin with, the plan would cost an estimated $350 million a year, plus a one-time capital cost estimated at $100 million, and would take five years to implement.
“This program will pay for itself because it will mean fewer drop-outs, less need for expensive remedial programs in later years, and fewer repeated grades,” Cesiunas wrote.
Also, reducing class sizes means creating new classes—which creates a demand for more teachers.
“Small class size will not make up for poor teaching,” his report read. “Universal implementation of CSR [class size reduction] has a significant impact on the availability of qualified teachers.”
With the expected shortage of teachers over the next five years, this could present real problems for school boards.
“Research suggests the investment in CSR may best be directed to schools/classrooms that benefit most, such as those serving students at greater risk,” Cesiunas wrote.
A study in Tennessee shows that all students in small classes benefited from CSR, “but the largest gains were made by disadvantaged minority students.”
Finally, Cesiunas noted more space would be required to house the extra classes created through CSR. This extra space often comes in the form of portables, which can take up playground space.
Also at Tuesday night’s meeting, the Catholic board:
•approved a modified school year calendar for the 2004-05 year, to be submitted to the Ministry of Education;
•heard a report from David Sharp, the board’s At-Risk leader, on upcoming plans for the Students-At-Risk program; and
•reviewed the EQAO board action plan for 2003-2004, based on action plans submitted from each of the board’s schools.
(Fort Frances Times)