Why do teachers have to bargain class size?

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As the end of August looms and my younger teacher friends already have the first days of school on their minds, I can’t quit it.

Once a career teacher, always a teacher.

At least in my head.

Once a union teacher, always a union teacher.

Even in retirement.

I was a part of our local’s bargaining team a dozen times at least.

Aside from bargaining salary and benefits, we also bargained working conditions. Any teacher will tell you that good working conditions for teachers are good learning conditions for students.

That includes class size.

There has always been a debate over the value of smaller class sizes. And the debate always includes some research showing it matters or it doesn’t matter.

I use the Phillips Academy standard.

If you want to know what conditions are best for kids look at what rich people do for their kids.

The class was intimate. There were 14 students seated in a circular arrangement and two teachers in the class, making a student-teacher ratio of 7-to-1.

That seems incredibly low for a high school. In fact, it’s a little higher than the 5-to-1 student-teacher ratio for the entire school. The average class size is 13 students.

We could never get our board to agree to put class size limits into our contract.

Yes. They would sign a side letter setting out class size guide lines. But they knew and we knew we couldn’t grieve a side letter. If they violated the guide lines, we had a process for addressing the problem. We could meet. Maybe we could get an extra assistant. If all the classes at a single school went over the guidelines we might be able to split a class. Maybe.

No guarantees.

Think about it. Even though parents and teachers and even the boards themselves agree that smaller learning environments are better for the students, school boards resist a contractual agreement because, well, it costs more and education dollars are in short supply.

So I say the hell with bargaining it and make it law.

Other states do it. Why not Illinois?

Illinois just passed a minimum salary for teachers. Why not a law requiring small class size limits?

I would go for a ratio of one to seven like Phillips.

However, I do understand that might be a problem passing in the state legislature.

But we have a Democratic governor and a Democratic legislature with a sizable progressive caucus. They’ve made weed legal. They’ve put a progressive tax on the ballot for a constitutional change. They’ve protected reproductive rights from any changes to Roe by the Supreme Court.

They passed a $15 an hour minimum wage.

True. We have to wait for five more years to get to the $15 minimum wage.

But things are headed in the right direction.

So now might be the right time to post up and pass a small class size bill.

And no five year roll-out like they did with a minimum wage either.

How about you, Representative Will Guzzardi?

5 thoughts on “Why do teachers have to bargain class size?

  1. When I worked at the International School of Kuala Lumpur, the average class size was 16 or less. It was an overload to have 18 kids in one room.
    Class sizes matter. Now, I’ve read that some classes in public schools are 40 students. This is totally unacceptable.
    Hopefully, Illinois will pass a graduated income tax so that more money is available for K-12 public schools and our pension crisis. Tax financial transactions and corporations.

    I’ve given up on anything useful coming from Indiana. I keep writing to my blockheaded Senator Niemeyer. He sends out information that doesn’t differentiate how much is given to private charter schools, virtual schools and vouchers vs. K-12 public schools. One has to search to understand that more money was voted for charter schools in this year’s budget and next year’s than is being given to public schools.
    Public schools in Indiana are suffering. Many Indiana teachers have to work 2-3 jobs to survive.
    Representative Chyung [D-IN] cares but he is a minority in a red state.

  2. A small class size bill should definitely be passed. Added to it would be even smaller class sizes for schools with over 80% free lunch. These children often need even more attention than children from richer backgrounds. And by richer, I mean it in every sense of the word.

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