Archives for category: Class size

Leonie Haimson is a tireless advocate for small class size. At the drop of a hat, she will recite the research showing the value of small classes, especially for the neediest children.

She just published an article showing how New York City can afford to reduce class sizes.

She identifies the specific ways that the city can shift funds to reduce class sizes.

She begins:

The New York City Department of Education has lost 74 employees to the novel coronavirus, including 30 teachers and 28 paraprofessionals who have died as of May 8. Evidence has also emerged that children can develop serious illnesses after being infected with the virus, and even those who are asymptomatic are often effective transmitters.

Now that both Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo have wisely decided that our public schools will be closed through the end of June, it is time to start thinking about how they will be reopened in the fall to maximize the health and safety of students and staff, and strengthen the academic and emotional support that our students will need to make up for the myriad losses they have suffered this year.

As Mayor de Blasio has said, “Next school year will have to be the greatest academic school year New York City will ever have because everyone is going to be playing catch up.” And yet he has also proposed over $800 million in reductions to the Department of Education, including staffing freezes and at least $140 million taken directly out of school budgets, which would likely cause class sizes to grow even larger, the loss of school counselors and more.

How could next year be the best year ever, given such drastic reductions? In fact, our schools will need increased investments to provide the enhanced feedback and engagement that students will so desperately need after months of isolation and inadequate remote learning.

The New York Times has an interesting story today about the varied approaches to reopening schools in Europe. The common threads are testing, smaller classes, and social distancing.


NEUSTRELITZ, Germany — It was Lea Hammermeister’s first day back at school after almost two months at home and she was already preparing for a test.

Not a math or physics test. A coronavirus test — one she would administer herself.

Ms. Hammermeister, a 17-year-old high school junior, entered the tent erected in the schoolyard along with some classmates — all standing six feet apart — and picked up a test kit. She inserted the swab deep into her throat, gagging slightly as instructed, then closed and labeled the sample before returning to class.

It took less than three minutes. The results landed in her inbox overnight. A positive test would require staying home for two weeks. Ms. Hammermeister tested negative. She now wears a green sticker that allows her to move around the school without a mask — until the next test four days later.

“I was very relieved,” she said happily. In addition to feeling safe around her classmates and teachers, who all tested negative, she feels like less of a risk to her grandmother, who eats with the family every day.
The self-administered test at the high school in Neustrelitz, a small town in northern Germany, is one of the more intriguing efforts in Europe as countries embark on a giant experiment in how to reopen schools, which have been shuttered for weeks and which are now being radically transformed by strict hygiene and distancing rules.

Restarting schools is at the core of any plan to restart economies globally. If schools do not reopen, parents cannot go back to work. So how Germany and other countries that have led the way on many fronts handle this stage in the pandemic will provide an essential lesson for the rest of the world.

“Schools are the spine of our societies and economies,” said Henry Tesch, headmaster of the school in northern Germany that is piloting the student tests. “Without schools, parents can’t work and children are being robbed of precious learning time and, ultimately, a piece of their future.”

Countries across Asia have already been making the leap, experimenting with a variety of approaches. In China, students face temperature checks before they can enter schools, and cafeteria tables are outfitted with plastic dividers.

In Sydney, Australia, schools are opening in staggered stages, holding classes one day a week for a quarter of the students from each grade. Hong Kong and Japan are trying similar phased reopenings. In Taiwan, classes have been in session since late February, but assemblies have been canceled and students are ordered to wear masks.

For now, Europe is a patchwork of approaches and timetables — a vast laboratory for how to safely operate an institution that is central to any meaningful resumption of public life.

In Germany, which last week announced that it would reopen most aspects of its economy and allow all students back in coming weeks, class sizes have been cut in half. Hallways have become one-way systems. Breaks are staggered. Teachers wear masks and students are told to dress warmly because windows and doors are kept open for air circulation.

Germany is keeping a wary eye on the rate of virus spread as it moves to reopen.

Germany has been a leader in methodically slowing the spread of the virus and keeping the number of deaths relatively low. But that success is fragile, Chancellor Angela Merkel has warned.

On Saturday, the reproduction factor — the average number of people who get infected by every newly infected person — which the government wants to stay below 1, crept back up to 1.13.

With still so little known about the virus, many experts say mass testing is the only way to avoid the reopening of schools becoming a gamble.

The school in Neustrelitz is still an exception. But by offering everyone from teachers to students free tests twice a week, it is zeroing in on a central question haunting all countries at this stage in the pandemic: Just how infectious are children?

Evidence suggests that children are less likely to become seriously ill from Covid-19 than adults. But small numbers of children have become very sick and some have died, either from the respiratory failure that causes most adult deaths or from a newly recognized syndrome that causes acute inflammation in the heart.

An even greater blind spot is transmission. Children often do not have symptoms, making it less likely that they are tested and harder to see whether or how they spread the virus.

The prospect that schoolchildren, well-documented spreaders of the common flu, might also become super spreaders of the coronavirus, is the central dilemma for countries looking to reopen while avoiding a second wave of deadly infections. It means that school openings could pose real dangers.

“That’s my biggest fear,” said Prof. Michael Hoelscher, head of infectious diseases and tropical medicine at Munich University Hospital, who oversees a household study in Munich that hopes to shed light on transmission inside families.

Manfred Prenzel, a prominent educationalist and member of a panel advising the German government on its reopening, said children represent the most intractable aspect of this pandemic: asymptomatic transmission.

A study published in Germany last week by the country’s best-known virologist and coronavirus expert, found that infected children carried the same amount of the virus as adults, suggesting they might be as infectious as adults.

“In the current situation, we have to warn against an unlimited reopening of schools and nurseries,” concluded the study supervised by Christian Drosten at the Berlin-based Charite hospital.

The Robert Koch Institute of public health, Germany’s equivalent of the C.D.C. in the United States, found that children get infected in roughly equal proportions to adults.

Other studies, including two from China, suggest that children may be less contagious than adults, possibly because they often do not have the symptoms that help spread it, like a cough. Researchers in Iceland and the Netherlands did not identify a single case in which children brought the virus into their homes.

“The evidence is not yet conclusive,” said Richard Pebody, team leader for high threat pathogens at the World Health Organization. His advice on school openings: “Do it very gradually and monitor the ongoing epidemiology very closely.”

That is easier said than done.

For now, Europe’s school openings are as varied as its countries. Denmark opened primary schools and nurseries first, reasoning that young children are the least at risk and the most dependent on parents, who need to return to work. Germany allowed older children back to school first because they are better able to comply with rules on masks and distancing.

France is opening preschools on Monday before phasing in primary and middle school children later in the month. High school students will keep learning remotely for now.

Belgium, Greece and Austria are all resuming lessons for select grades in coming weeks. Sweden never closed its schools but has put in place distancing and hygiene rules. Some hard-hit countries like Spain and Italy are not confident enough to open schools until the fall.

One precondition for any country to open schools, epidemiologists say, is that community transmission rates be at manageable levels.

Early evidence from countries that have led the way in lowering community transmission and opening schools looks hopeful, said Flemming Konradsen, director of the School of Global Health at the University of Copenhagen.

Denmark, after letting younger children back more than three weeks ago, announced last week that the reproduction factor of the virus remained below 1. Older students will be allowed to return to school on Monday.

Germany, Europe’s biggest country, announced last week that all children would see the inside of a classroom again before the summer break after a two-week trial run in high schools had not stopped overall transmission numbers from falling. Officials hope the rise that was reported over the weekend was a blip instead of a sign that the loosening is already reviving the spread of the disease.

Many argue the benefits of opening schools — to economies, parents and the children themselves — far outweigh the costs so long as hygiene rules are put in place. Disadvantaged children in particular suffer from being out, said Sophie Luthe, a social worker at a Berlin high school.

“We have been losing children; they just drop off the radar,” Ms. Luthe said. “School is a control mechanism for everything from learning difficulties to child abuse.”

But teaching in the time of a pandemic comes with a host of challenges: In the high school in Neustrelitz, roughly a third of the teachers are out because they are older or at risk.

There are not enough classrooms to allow all 1,000 students to come to class and still keep six feet apart, which means at most a third can be in school at any one time. Teachers often shuttle between classrooms, teaching two groups at once.

At the same time, the virus is spurring innovation.

Teachers in Denmark have moved a lot of their teaching outdoors. German schools, long behind on digital learning, have seen their technology budgets increase overnight.

“Corona is exposing all our problems,” Mr. Tesch, the headmaster in Neustrelitz, said. “It’s an opportunity to rethink our schools and experiment.”

That’s why he did not hesitate when an old friend, who co-founded a local biotechnology company, offered the school free tests for a pilot. Mr. Tesch said he hoped the testing would allow him to increase class sizes safely and restart activities like sports and the orchestra.

Many experts advocate more testing in schools but so far it remains the exception. Luxembourg, tiny and wealthy, tested all 8,500 of its high school seniors before opening schools to them last Monday.

Some students and teachers in Neustrelitz were skeptical when they first heard that the school would offer voluntary biweekly tests.

“I didn’t want to do it at first,” recalled Kimberly Arndt. “I thought, ‘What if I test positive? I’d be pegged as the girl with corona.’”

The incentive to test is high: A negative result allows students to wash and disinfect hands in bathrooms where lines are much shorter. Corona-negative students do not have to wear masks, either.

Mr. Tesch, the headmaster, acknowledges that his school is able to test only because he was offered free kits. Normally they would cost around 40 euros, or $44, a piece. But the government, he said, should consider paying for similar testing at all schools.

“It’s a lot of money,” he said, “but it’s cheaper than shutting down your economy.”

California Sunday Magazine published interviews with teachers about their role in striking, walking out, negotiating, bargaining.

It begins:

On February 22, 2018, some 20,000 teachers in West Virginia — many of them wearing red in solidarity — walked out of their classrooms. That April saw strikes in Arizona, Colorado, and Oklahoma, as teachers vented their collective frustration in what became known as the #RedforEd movement. In early 2019, educators picketed in Oakland and Los Angeles, in districts across Washington state and Oregon, and again in Colorado. And this fall, educators in Chicago, the nation’s third-largest school district, took to the streets.

After years of system-wide underinvestment, educators are pushing back hard. They have married concerns about pay with their ability to adequately educate students . They have made a few gains — one or two fewer students in their overcrowded classes and significant raises in some cases. But many still see a long way to go, and as another election ramps up, the public will have to decide how much these issues matter. In these pages, we hear from teachers who made the decision to walk the picket lines and others who decided to stay put.

Angie Sullivan regularly writes blast emails to every member of the state legislature and to the state’s journalists. Here is her latest:

CCEA members voted at a General Meeting yesterday to raise dues.  
Those teacher union dues will be used to campaign for a billion dollars.  
Yes, billion. 
Yes, dollars.  
We need to think big to win big.  
Teachers need those funds to fund class-size reduction.   We need additional teachers.   We need additional classrooms. 
Nevada teachers have the largest class-sizes in the nation.  
It is not reasonable to keep piling more and more students into small spaces.  
Our eye is on the 2021 Nevada Legislative Session.  We will get a billion dollars for kids.   
We demand political will to take care of kids.  
Here we come. 
#Fight4Kids #Billion4Kids
#NVed #NVTeach #Nevada #Vegas
The Teacher MotherJonesing,
Angie. 

New York City’s Department of Education launched a new initiative with old and failed ideas: more testing for schools with low scores.

Liat Olenick, a teacher of science in elementary school in the city, explains why more testing is a very bad idea. She says smaller classes would be far more valuable and effective.

Wow! Talk about a surprise! Teacher Glenn Sacks managed to get an article with the title of this post in the Wall Street Journal, the newspaper that regularly vilifies teachers’ unions and praises privatization of public funds.

Yes, Sacks–a teacher in Los Angeles–contends that teachers’ unions fight to get teachers the time and support staff they need to do their jobs, so they are necessary and valuable.

The link that Sacks provided is not behind a pay wall.

The article begins:

The rookie science teacher looks at me with the same “Am I understanding this job correctly or am I crazy?” look I’ve often seen in the eyes of new teachers.

“No, you understand,” I say. “You’ve been thrown into a situation that requires an enormous amount of work and a good amount of ability, and it’s sink or swim. You might naturally expect the system to help you, or at least acknowledge the position you’ve been put in. It won’t.”

Teachers have come under considerable scrutiny in recent decades, and everybody claims to have the silver-bullet reform that will fix education. No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, Common Core, charter schools, raising the qualifications to become a teacher, limiting or abolishing tenure, and countless other measures have been taken up by Congress and state legislatures since I took my first teaching position in 1989.

Yet there is little public discussion about the education system’s central problem: Teachers don’t have enough time to do our jobs properly. Teachers unions understand this and fight to protect our ability to do our jobs.

He points out that some students can be assessed more accurately with an oral exam that with a written one, but teachers don’t have the time for that.

He writes:

Here are some ways to make teachers more effective:

  • Reduce class sizes, an issue in both the October teachers’ strike in Chicago and the Los Angeles teachers’ strike in January.
  • Provide teachers with support staff for clerical work.
  • Hire sufficient staff to eliminate extraneous chores.

Limiting class size and hiring sufficient staff would save teachers’ time from being squandered. That in turn would allow us to focus more on creating imaginative lessons and interacting with students.

Seeing Glenn Sacks’ article in the WSJ gives me hope that some people in the business world might read it and pay attention.

If they do, they will understand what real education reform looks like from the perspective of those who do the work, rather than those who sit in armchairs in think tanks.

 

Jan Resseger explains the history and context of the truly historic teachers’ strike in Chicago that recently ended. She explains it with clarity, as only Jan can do.

This was not a strike for higher salaries. The mayor offered a 16% increase before the strike began, and that is what the Chicago Teachers Union accepted.

This was a strike for students. This was a strike to reverse a quarter-century of disinvestment by Mayors Richard Daley and Rahm Emanuel.

This was a strike against 25 years of austerity in a booming city that had billions for developers but nothing for students and schools.

This was a strike against corporate reform, which starved the public schools for the benefit of charter schools.

This was a historic strike. To understand why, read this post.

The CTU reached a tentative agreement with Chicago Public Schools. The CTU House of Delegates voted 364-242 to suspend the strike pending resolution of final issues. The settlement, which meets most of the CTU demands, will be voted on by the full membership within 10 days.

But the strike is not yet over. The sides are very close but the union wants an assurance that there will be no loss of instructional time for the students. They want to make up the instructional time, possibly by extending the school year. Thus far, Mayor Lightfoot says no.

The union made no concessions. For the first time ever, they have won enforceable guarantees about class sizes, though the agreed-upon limits are still too large: no more than 32 students in K-3. No more than 35 in upper grades. $35 million has been pledged for class size reductions, which will be lowered as funding permits. The agreement commits the city not to authorize any new charters, nor add to the current enrollment of students in charter schools.

No school tomorrow while the bargaining continues.

The settlement contains not only caps on class sizes, but guarantees about school nurses, and other important staffing issues. It also offers significant salary increases, which was not a contentious issue. The union really did fight for better conditions for their students. .

The Big Three—Governor Pritzker, the Democrats in the Legislature and House Speaker Madigan— have agreed to restore a democratically elected board to replace mayoral control and to restore full collective bargaining rights so Chicago is on the same footing as other districts in Illinois.

Now we wait to see how long it will take to assure that the students do not lose instructional time.

 

 

 

 

From the Chicago Teachers Union:

 

For ten months we had absolutely no progress on key proposals. After only two strike days, we have seen considerable movement and crucial openings on issues such as homeless students, class sizes, staffing and other key issues that the mayor told us would not be open for bargaining. Today, we got a tentative agreement for specific staff positions to support Students in Temporary Living Situations (students who qualify as homeless). For Pre-Kindergarten classes, we won contractual guarantees that CPS will follow Illinois law in maintaining a ratio of 1 adult for every 10 students in a Pre-K classroom. We also won guaranteed naps for preschoolers in all-day pre-K programs. We won language that counselors will not be pulled from counseling to do other duties such as substitute teaching in a classroom. This will lead to greater counselor access for our students.

We also brought CPS a new counter-offer on class size, today. We need guaranteed caps on class sizes and we continue to fight for them. There are still many open issues, including prep time and steps for veteran teachers, as well as a raise capable of moving our lowest-paid paraprofessionals above poverty wages.

Our gains have only been possible thanks to the strength of our picket lines, the turnout at our afternoon protests and the support we’ve gotten from students, parents and community members. Keep it up!

Pickets Monday at 6:30am

Although we made progress over the weekend on important issues, this strike will need to continue Monday. Like Thursday and Friday, all CTU members are directed to picket at their schools, starting at 6:30 a.m. Although different schools have different start times, it’s important that our union operate as one. Keep talking to parents, students and community members about what we’re fighting for. Despite the expected rain, we need to keep up our strength to win what’s best for our schools and our students. Dress for rain, bring umbrellas and boots. Take turns coming inside. But keep those picket lines strong from 6:30 to 10:30!

Regional unity marches

In a number of neighborhoods, educators at schools near one another are coming together for particular actions tomorrow.

Southwest Side

CTU strikers will line Pulaski from Archer to 111th from 8:00am to 9:00am. Contact Organizing@ctulocal1.org for more information.

Hyde Park

Hyde Park “Nurse in Every School” Solidarity March for Justice

CTU, SEIU, National Nurses United and Graduate Students United at University of Chicago are combining forces to put muscle behind our call for adequate and equitable nurse staffing. Marches will start at area schools between 8:45 and 9:00 am and converge on Kenwood Academy at 9:45am.

You can email Michael Shea of Kenwood Academy for more information and coordination.

North Side

Striking CTU and SEIU members on the north side will be enacting a solidarity action down Addison Street from Broadway to the expressway Monday at 8:00 am. Participating schools currently include Disney 1, Greeley, InterAmerican, Nettlehorst, Hawthorne, Blaine, Lakeview, Hamilton, Jahn, Burley, Audubon, Coonley, Bell, Lane Tech, Linne, Cleveland, Henry, Disney II, Murphy, and Belden.

March at 2:00pm at Union Park

Our afternoon rallies have been incredibly effective in demonstrating our unity and the sheer scale of what we are fighting for. Keep coming!

Monday, we will march from Union Park, at the corner of Washington and Ogden. The location is accessible from the Green Line Ashland stop and by bus (Ashland, Ogden, etc.).

Afternoon Allied Actions

Raise Chicago Coalition

Youth will hold an action at City Hall at 1:00 p.m. to highlight the need for $15 per hour minimum wage AND the need for a fair contract that enshrines the resources schools need to combat things like overcrowded classrooms and housing issues.

Resist, Reimagine, Rebuild Coalition

The R3 coalition will host a Teach-In for Strikers so that they may learn about community based struggles that support and intersect with teachers demands for education justice. It will be held at Experimental Station (6100 S Blackstone) from 12:00 to 3:00 pm.

Art Build

The Grassroots Collaborative will be setting up an art build at the CTU Center Monday night from 5:00 to 8:00 pm to create signs and props for colorful and impactful actions later this week.

Image adapted by Jesus Sanchez of Social Justice HS from Are You Ready to Play Outside? by Mo Willems.

Day 2 of CTU strike will bring educators, allies to City Hall at 1:30 pm

Some movement at bargaining table Thursday, but no agreement on special ed needs, classroom overcrowding, salary floor for low-wage teaching assistants, staffing shortages.

CHICAGO—Educators and frontline staff will hit the picket lines for a second day today, as rank and file union members attempt to bargain a fair contract for 25,000 CTU teachers, clinicians, teaching assistants and support staff. While some progress was made at the bargaining table Thursday, the union and CPS ramain far apart on efforts to reign in exploding class sizes and find a path to remedying dire shortages of school nurses, social workers, special education teachers and other critical staff.

Late this afternoon, CPS refused to discuss a proposal on special education needs with the expert special education teachers and clinicians at the table who had crafted the proposal, because not every CTU officer was present. The CTU’s 40+ member rank and file bargaining team must sign off on any tentative agreement to be sent to members for approval.

Today’s schedule: Thursday, Oct. 17

 

  • 1:30 p.m.: Mass rally and march, City Hall, 121 N. LaSalle St. with CTU rank and file, grassroots community groups, CTU officers, elected officials, allies.

Fast facts:

  • The State’s new equity-based school funding formula is sending a billion-plus additional dollars each year to CPS to reduce sizes of chronically overcrowded classes, support students in poverty and increase services to special education students and English language learners.
  • CPS passed the largest budget in its history this year: $7.7 billion. Yet CPS cut the amount of dollars it is spending in school communities this year.
  • Juarez High School in Pilsen, which enrolls over 1,300 overwhelmingly low-income Latinx students, saw its school budget cut this year by $840,000, costing the school nine teaching and staff positions.
  • CPS cut the budgets of more than 200 CPS schools by at least $100,000, and cut the budgets of more than 40 schools by more than half a million dollars for this school year.
  • CTU educators are fighting for better wages, smaller class sizes, adequate staffing, and educational justice for students and their families. They want the additional state revenue CPS receives to increase equity to go to school communities and student needs.
  • Almost half of CPS’ students are Latinx. Yet the district has acute shortages of ELL teachers—teachers for English language learners—and is severely short of bilingual social workers. Bilingual education services are chronically short of both educators and resources—a key issue at the bargaining table.
  • CPS is desperately short of school nurses, social workers, librarians, special education teachers, ELL teachers and more. CPS has staffing ratios three to five times higher than those recommended by national professional organizations and best practices. Fewer than 115 school nurses serve over 500 schools. Most schools have a nurse only one day a week.
  • One out of four schools has a librarian—and that number falls to barely one in ten for Black-majority schools. A decade ago, most schools had a librarian.
  • CPS is desperately short of social workers and special education teachers, even as CPS is under the oversight of a state monitor for shortchanging its diverse learners.
  • This year, more than 1,300 CPS classes are overcrowded under CPS’ own high class caps, up from more than a thousand overcrowded classrooms last year.
  • Almost 25% of elementary students attend overcrowded classes, with some kindergarten classes topping 40 students. Roughly 35% of high school students are enrolled in overcrowded classes; at schools like Simeon, virtually every core class is overcrowded, with math, social studies and world language classes topping 39 students.
  • The CTU’s school clerks and teaching assistants earn wages as low as $28,000/year—so low the children of two-thirds qualify for free and reduced lunch under federal poverty guidelines. Over 1,100 cannot afford to rent a two-bedroom apartment at prevailing rent rates in ANY zip code in the city. In year 5 of the mayor’s proposed contract, most of those workers would still be earning poverty wages. And in the last ten years, NO CTU member’s wages have kept pace with the inflation rate.
  • Candidate Lightfoot ran on a platform calling for equity and educational justice—including a nurse, a social worker and a librarian in every school—all proposals her negotiating team has rejected at the table. She also ran in support of an elected, representative school board—but moved to stall that legislation in the Illinois Senate after she was elected.
  • CPS has said it has budgeted to improve staffing shortages, but refuses to put those commitments in writing in an enforceable contract. The union wants those promises in writing, in an enforceable contract—the only way we have to hold CPS and the 5th floor to their promises.