Leonie Haimson knows the research on class size, and she explains here why Los Angeles teachers are right to strike for smaller classes. The higher the needs of the students, the more they need smaller classes. Yet in our society, only the very wealthiest students attend schools where class sizes may be as low as 12 or 15.

She writes:

Though some people make the claim that class size doesn’t really matter for a great teacher, it does. Research conclusively shows that small classes benefit all students, but especially disadvantaged students of color, who reap twice the benefit from small classes.

In the Hill newspaper, former U.S. education secretary Arne Duncan, who worked under former president Barack Obama, wrote an op-ed in opposition to the strike and in defense of the district’s position in which he made several questionable claims. The first was to support the district’s statement that LAUSD has smaller average classes than any other large California district but San Francisco. He wrote:

“On class size, Los Angeles Unified has an average of 26 students per class. Of the 10 largest school districts in California, only one has a smaller average class size than Los Angeles.”

There is conflicting data on this, but suffice it to say that information on the LAUSD website supports the union’s position that average class sizes are probably far larger than 26 in every grade but K-3, with averages of more than 30 students per class in grades 4 through 8, and more than 40 in high school classes.

She adds:

The argument currently between the union and the district is not about average class sizes but maximum class sizes — and more specifically, whether the district should adhere to any limits on class size at all.

There is a waiver in the current contract that allows the district to ignore any and all class size caps, as long as they claim financial necessity — and the administration has take advantage of this waiver every single year since the great recession in 2009. That year, the district issued massive teacher layoffs, which increased class sizes in nearly every school. Since then, the administration has continued to use this loophole in the contract to unilaterally decide to violate previously agreed-upon contractual caps, despite the fact that the district has experienced budget surpluses for many years in a row.

Haimson is founder of a group called Class Size Matters, and she knows the research better than anyone else I know.

This is one of those common occurrences when teachers know what their students need. And they know it better than the non-educator/equity investor who now is in charge of the Los Angeles schools or the basketball player who used to be Secretary of Education.