Class size limit threatens proper functioning of school

Carley Schleien, Co-Editor in Chief

Let’s rewind eight years ago, back to 2002. Unfortunately, tragic historical events occurred that year, as they do every year. Of course, political event unfolded, environmental crises ensued, and the economy was not in its best shape. And among those tragic historical events? Florida’s citizens voted to approve the infamous Class Size Reduction Amendment.

The Class Size Reduction Amendment specifies that beginning this school year, a limit of 25 students per core class would be placed in all Florida public high schools. Since the 2003-2004 school year, the Florida Legislature has allocated funds to implement the amendment, but not enough.

As I have learned in one of my classes this year, voters probably looked  at  this   amendment superficially, not entirely contemplating the potential ramifications that it could pose. Instead, they chose to look at the “pros:” smaller classes, more individualized attention, a better education system, possible higher test scores, etc.  Well, what about the “cons?” Where’s the money going to come from to fund this amendment? How are we going to acquire the teachers and physical space that is an integral part of this amendment?

Roughly 3,100 students attend Miami Palmetto Senior High School, a school that occupies 23 acres with thousands of square feet of buildings and portables. But even with all the physical land that the school occupies, we simply do not have enough space to house enough classes with 25 students each to teach all 3,100 students enrolled at this school. And even if we did, we don’t have enough teachers.

When a subject is taught by several teachers during the same period, the school levels every class except for one, which unfortunately would then contain more than 25 students. I’ve heard stories of classes with over 35 students. Classes like those simply cannot function cohesively. And the teachers who have to co-teach those classes have had to forgo their planning periods.

Another major issue that is caused by the amendment is the guidance counselors’ and Activities/Athletics Directors’ availability. These key faculty members are now required to co-teach classes for several periods. Students can now only meet with guidance counselors during lunch. How are we supposed to get to know our counselors and ask them for their advice if they have about a one hour window to see hundreds of students? And how are the Activities and Athletics Directors supposed to manage the school’s activities and athletics teams, respectively, if they’re spending time in classrooms?

And I haven’t even started on the monetary issues. The district is calculating how much they’re going to have to pay the Florida Legislature in fees for sections that are still over the class size limit. Although an official figure has not been announced yet, rumor has it that the district will have to pay $5 million in fees. Yeah, you heard me. $5 million that I guess will just magically fall from the sky.

While  researching this amendment, I found a study conducted by a Harvard University student in 2002. Last revised this past August, the study showed that the class size limits placed in Florida’s public schools “had little, if any, effect on cognitive and non-cognitive outcomes.” The study leads me to question why we’re spending millions of dollars and hundreds of hours of manpower to comply with the amendment.

Because of all the uproar that the Class Size Reduction Amendment has caused, the Revision of the Class Size Requirements for Public Schools, also known as Amendment Number 8, will be on this Tuesday’s ballot. The amendment, if passed, would raise the class size limit to 30 students per class, and it would require the Legislature to provide adequate funds to comply with the amendment. In addition, it would take effect “upon approval by the electors of this state and to operate retroactively to the beginning of the 2010-2011 school year.”

I’ll be honest with you – this editorial seems like a déjà vu. Last school year, I wrote an editorial about Senate Bill 6/House Bill 7189, which would have linked teachers’ pay to students’ performances on standardized tests. Governor Charlie Crist ended up vetoing the Senate bill, so there’s still hope for this Class Size Reduction Amendment. But this time, it’s not in our governor’s hands, nor is it up to the Florida Legislature, to decide the outcome of this amendment. So who’s responsible?