As some teachers leave the profession, others are sounding the alarm over increasing class sizes.
Since the 2017-2018 school year, Montgomery County High School has reported a student-to-teacher ratio of 18:1.
By law, each school district in Kentucky is required to report class sizes to the state to be included in the School Report Card. However, that information reflects a school average.
Teacher Ginny Muse says this year her class sizes range from 22 to 33 students. In her largest class, there weren’t enough seats, so she had to make room.
“I bought lawn chairs and some exercise models for kids to sit on. So, it works in that we have some flexible seats, but we're also very packed in tight,” said Muse.
Muse is a member of the teacher’s union KY 120 United-Aft. The growing group continues to take concerns from teachers about increasing and unmanageable class sizes.
“Sometimes you may have one class that's large, but this year it seems like everybody has multiple large classes,” said Muse.
WHY IS THIS HAPPENING?
Kentucky Law has established maximum class sizes. It ranges from 24 students to one teacher for primary grades to 31 students to a teacher for grades 7 and up.
But like most rules, there are exceptions.
Byron Darnall, Kentucky Department of Education’s (KDE) Associate Commissioner for the Educator Licensure and Effectiveness, says the teacher shortage, lack of substitutes, and pandemic absenteeism could all be contributing factors for schools making those exceptions.
“The need is there. The need has always been there in terms of getting qualified people in the profession. But the pandemic has certainly complicated this,” said Darnall.
In the last 30 days, there were around 400 vacancies posted on the state's educator placement service (KEPS). More than 100 were from Jefferson County Public Schools. More than 45 were from Fayette County Public Schools.
Some of those positions may now be filled. However, KDE says since the 2015-2016 school year about 16.5% of all the education positions posted go unfilled.
“It seems just that most of the inflation of class sizes is coming from an immediate need as a result of a teacher being absent and therefore, the school district obviously has to find a manageable way to supervise those students,” said Darnall.
Darnall says these decisions on class sizes will vary based on location and school. He says the best way to address concerns would be through the School Based Decision-Making Council.
“In positive circumstances, the communication should remain strong between the teachers and a building and particularly the principal and the site-based decision-making council. So the SBDM would really be the outlet that teachers have as a voice in working through problematic areas like class size,” said Darnall.
With the pandemic highlighting some of these issues, many students have moved to nonpublic school options. Darnell says KDE is working to keep public schools in Kentucky a top choice.
“Certainly, there are high concerns and the best thing that we want to do is provide the best and most ideal learning environment for those students, and that would be by maintaining manageable class sizes,” said Darnell.
Enrollment in public schools across Kentucky is down, but students choosing nonpublic school options increased by 8.16% in the 2021-2022 school year. That’s according to a new EdChoice Kentucky Report by Dr. Gary Houchens.
Sayre School in Lexington is one of those schools. Head of Schools Stephen Manella says they are fully staffed, and class sizes are around 14 students to one teacher.
“Your child's education is probably one of the most important decisions you make as a parent and certainly living through the pandemic — that has made parents think about a lot of different options from that standpoint,” said Manella.
Manella says whether the trend sticks is yet to be seen. He says they are keeping a watchful eye on the alarming report from KDE that 72% of teachers are currently at risk of leaving the profession.
“Trends change. You just want to make sure that you have as robust of a pipeline as possible of individuals entering this field,” said Manella.
For those who still view public school as their best option, Muse says leaders have to act now. While her class sizes are manageable now, she worries about new teachers with less experience.
“I think the only way things will change is if parents express that they’re upset,” said Muse. “We all want to put the students first and I think we can all agree that having such large class sizes is not beneficial to anyone.”