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The E-Accountability Foundation announces the

'A for Accountability' Award

to those who are willing to whistleblow unjust, misleading, or false actions and claims of the politico-educational complex in order to bring about educational reform in favor of children of all races, intellectual ability and economic status. They ask questions that need to be asked, such as "where is the money?" and "Why does it have to be this way?" and they never give up. These people have withstood adversity and have held those who seem not to believe in honesty, integrity and compassion accountable for their actions. The winners of our "A" work to expose wrong-doing not for themselves, but for others - total strangers - for the "Greater Good"of the community and, by their actions, exemplify courage and self-less passion. They are parent advocates. We salute you.

Winners of the "A":

Johnnie Mae Allen
Dee Alpert
Francesco Alexander Portelos
Harris Lirtzman
Hipolito Colon
Jim Calantjis
Larry Fisher
The Giraffe Project and Giraffe Heroes' Program
Jimmy Kilpatrick and George Scott
Zach Kopplin
Matthew LaClair
Wangari Maathai
Erich Martel
Steve Orel, in memoriam, Interversity, and The World of Opportunity
Marla Ruzicka, in Memoriam
Nancy Swan
Bob Witanek
Peyton Wolcott
[ More Details » ]
 
The Right Classroom Has the Right Size
Every teacher understands that class size often determines the educational climate in the classroom. Classes can be too small, and when this happens, a certain energy is missing. After a class reaches a certain size, adding each new student is like adding 10. Discipline becomes more time-consuming, and academic progress is slowed.
          
Class-size rules aren't targeting the right areas
By JIM O'NEILL
For AJC Gwinnett News
Published on: 04/17/06

LINK

Every teacher understands that class size often determines the educational climate in the classroom.

Classes can be too small, and when this happens, a certain energy is missing. After a class reaches a certain size, adding each new student is like adding 10. Discipline becomes more time-consuming, and academic progress is slowed.

For most subjects and academic levels, there is a sweet spot at which a class has energy, and discipline is not an issue.

For me, in a high school setting, the sweet spot exists when students are involved in class discussions and activities. There is free and open sharing of insights, and the students remain interested in what I am trying to accomplish.

The problem with finding the sweet spot for a class is current law.

The academic ability and inclination of students determines how large a class can be when looking for the sweet spot. Those students with the least ability need smaller classes, and those who are academically

inclined function well in larger classes.

In Georgia, and probably in every other state, we put special-education students in very small classes; at times the ratio is 1 to 1. Considering the challenges these students have, this may be reasonable.

We then lump average students in large classes, and often these classes are taught by teachers with the least experience. Lastly, we put gifted and Advanced Placement students in classes of no more than 21 students.

Class sizes are determined by the funding formula used by the state. If gifted students are in classes of 21 or fewer, the school earns additional teacher points [points are used in educational staffing] that can be used anywhere in the school. In a way, the more gifted students a school has, the smaller it can make its college prep and honors classes.

Though I do not know the full impact of the new state regula-

tions, the problem has been, even with the additional teacher points, that average students almost never end up in classes with fewer than 27 or 28 students, and these are the classes where the sweet spot is closer to 20.

Gifted students and those taking AP classes usually are academically inclined and become interested in class activities easily. These are the students who ought to be in classes of 27 and 28. They enjoy academics, have fewer discipline problems and function well in large groups.

To make matters worse, we usually assign our most experienced teachers to gifted and AP classes and our least experienced teachers to college prep and honors classes.

This means we put our best teachers in rooms that have the fewest problems and our least prepared teachers in the most difficult environments. This makes no sense.

As a social studies department head, I have placed first-year teachers in gifted and AP classes. They have done a good job. A second-year teacher initiated our ninth-grade AP human geography program, and her students passed the AP test and earned college credit.

My point: When assigning teachers to advanced classes, the criteria ought to be academic knowledge and not teaching experience. These are the easiest students to teach if you know the material.

When assigning teachers to college prep and honors classes, the criteria ought to be classroom management skills, and these teachers ought to be given smaller classes because the sweet spot in those classes is lower than in gifted classes.

I am thankful state revenues have rebounded and reducing the number of students in a class is now possible, but I think the state needs to revisit its funding formula for teacher assignments. The new law enacted this year still mandates that gifted students be in classes of 21 or fewer and that average students be in classes of no more than 28.

To raise test scores, it is necessary to improve the academic achievement of the average students because average students make up the majority of the student body. If we really want to do this, we need to reduce their class sizes, and one way to accomplish this is to shift gifted funding to the average student.

Even if we assume that the gifted learn more in smaller classes (though I do not agree), I doubt their added achievement would have the same impact on test scores as smaller classes for average students.

In Gwinnett County, the average high school probably has about 3,200 students. If the school's population is 10 percent gifted and 80 percent average, with the remaining students in special education, it is easy to see how a small increase in average-student testing will impact the school's test performance.

If the gifted program improved the SAT scores of these students by 200 points per student, the school's average test score would go up by only 20 points. But if smaller class sizes raised SAT scores for the average student by 50 points, the school's average SAT score would go up by 40 points.

We have been placing our emphasis in the wrong places. We expend too much money reducing class sizes for students who do not need this help and probably would function better if we had not done this in the first place.

Test scores for the gifted would not decrease if we placed them in larger classes. Test scores for average students would go up if they were in smaller classes.

If standardized tests measure instructional success, we ought to assign our students to the class sizes their academic inclinations demand.

Jim O'Neill lives in Snellville with his wife, Arlene. He has been a Gwinnett County schoolteacher since 1975 and has taught at Brookwood High School since it opened. He currently teaches Advanced Placement macroeconomics.








Find thClass-size rules aren't targeting the right areas

By JIM O'NEILL
For AJC Gwinnett News
Published on: 04/17/06
Every teacher understands that class size often determines the

educational climate in the classroom.

Classes can be too small, and when this happens, a certain energy is missing. After a class reaches a certain size, adding each new student is like adding 10. Discipline becomes more time-consuming, and academic progress is slowed.

For most subjects and academic levels, there is a sweet spot at which a class has energy, and discipline is not an issue.

For me, in a high school setting, the sweet spot exists when students are involved in class discussions and activities. There is free and open sharing of insights, and the students remain interested in what I am trying to accomplish.

The problem with finding the sweet spot for a class is current law.

The academic ability and inclination of students determines how large a class can be when looking for the sweet spot. Those students with the least ability need smaller classes, and those who are academically

inclined function well in larger classes.

In Georgia, and probably in every other state, we put special-education students in very small classes; at times the ratio is 1 to 1. Considering the challenges these students have, this may be reasonable.

We then lump average students in large classes, and often these classes are taught by teachers with the least experience. Lastly, we put gifted and Advanced Placement students in classes of no more than 21 students.

Class sizes are determined by the funding formula used by the state. If gifted students are in classes of 21 or fewer, the school earns additional teacher points [points are used in educational staffing] that can be used anywhere in the school. In a way, the more gifted students a school has, the smaller it can make its college prep and honors classes.

Though I do not know the full impact of the new state regula-

tions, the problem has been, even with the additional teacher points, that average students almost never end up in classes with fewer than 27 or 28 students, and these are the classes where the sweet spot is closer to 20.

Gifted students and those taking AP classes usually are academically inclined and become interested in class activities easily. These are the students who ought to be in classes of 27 and 28. They enjoy academics, have fewer discipline problems and function well in large groups.

To make matters worse, we usually assign our most experienced teachers to gifted and AP classes and our least experienced teachers to college prep and honors classes.

This means we put our best teachers in rooms that have the fewest problems and our least prepared teachers in the most difficult environments. This makes no sense.

As a social studies department head, I have placed first-year teachers in gifted and AP classes. They have done a good job. A second-year teacher initiated our ninth-grade AP human geography program, and her students passed the AP test and earned college credit.

My point: When assigning teachers to advanced classes, the criteria ought to be academic knowledge and not teaching experience. These are the easiest students to teach if you know the material.

When assigning teachers to college prep and honors classes, the criteria ought to be classroom management skills, and these teachers ought to be given smaller classes because the sweet spot in those classes is lower than in gifted classes.

I am thankful state revenues have rebounded and reducing the number of students in a class is now possible, but I think the state needs to revisit its funding formula for teacher assignments. The new law enacted this year still mandates that gifted students be in classes of 21 or fewer and that average students be in classes of no more than 28.

To raise test scores, it is necessary to improve the academic achievement of the average students because average students make up the majority of the student body. If we really want to do this, we need to reduce their class sizes, and one way to accomplish this is to shift gifted funding to the average student.

Even if we assume that the gifted learn more in smaller classes (though I do not agree), I doubt their added achievement would have the same impact on test scores as smaller classes for average students.

In Gwinnett County, the average high school probably has about 3,200 students. If the school's population is 10 percent gifted and 80 percent average, with the remaining students in special education, it is easy to see how a small increase in average-student testing will impact the school's test performance.

If the gifted program improved the SAT scores of these students by 200 points per student, the school's average test score would go up by only 20 points. But if smaller class sizes raised SAT scores for the average student by 50 points, the school's average SAT score would go up by 40 points.

We have been placing our emphasis in the wrong places. We expend too much money reducing class sizes for students who do not need this help and probably would function better if we had not done this in the first place.

Test scores for the gifted would not decrease if we placed them in larger classes. Test scores for average students would go up if they were in smaller classes.

If standardized tests measure instructional success, we ought to assign our students to the class sizes their academic inclinations demand.

Jim O'Neill lives in Snellville with his wife, Arlene. He has been a Gwinnett County schoolteacher since 1975 and has taught at Brookwood High School since it opened. He currently teaches Advanced Placement macroeconomics.

 
© 2003 The E-Accountability Foundation