on the up and up

Latest data from city show a continued increase in class sizes

Across the city, classes this year are larger, on average, than they were last year, according to data the Department of Education released today.

The new data, released this afternoon to meet an annual reporting deadline set by the City Council, show that class sizes have increased citywide for the sixth year in a row, with the largest increases coming in high schools.

Overall, class sizes jumped by an average of 1.6 percent this year. Classes in elementary schools now average 24.5 students; middle schools average 27.3 students per class; and high schools have 26.9 students on average in each class.

In September, a tally by the teachers union found that 670 schools — more than ever — had classes over their contractual size limits, which are higher than the citywide class size averages.

“Every parent and every teacher knows how critical it is that classes are small enough that each child can get individual attention,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew said in a statement responding to the new data. “But Mayor Bloomberg disagrees.”

Bloomberg began his tenure as mayor pledging to reduce class size, but now he says he doesn’t see class size as a pressing issue and would opt for better teachers over more teachers. A year ago, he said during a speech in Massachusetts that if he had his druthers, he would fire half of the city’s teachers and use the other half to lead larger classes. “Double class size with a better teacher is a good deal for the students,” Bloomberg said.

The changes reported today were, unsurprisingly, far less dramatic, with classes growing by .4 students on average.

Still, classes in kindergarten through third grade, where research has most clearly shown that smaller classes are better for student achievement, are now only slightly smaller than they were in the 1998-1999 school year, when they had 24.9 students on average. Last year, classes in those grades averaged 23.9 students; this year, that figure was 24.5.

Classes grew by the biggest margin this year in high schools, where classes grew by .6 students on average, from 26.3 to 26.9 students. The department’s PowerPoint presentation about the data suggested that a policy change requiring all high school seniors to take a full schedule of classes had fueled the increase.

In addition to the presentation, the department published detailed spreadsheets showing class sizes in each school and across different kinds of classes, such as type of special education class or high school subject.

The report released today is the first of two about class size the department is required to put out each school year. The department proposed eliminating the first report and completing only one in February instead, a move that advocates of smaller class sizes charged would produced artificially low class sizes. A city advisory board has recommended keeping both reports.

This year’s report was based on official enrollment data on Oct. 26, the last day of school before Hurricane Sandy hit the city. Some storm-affected schools have seen their enrollments change dramatically since then.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.