A recent analysis by government watchdog Florida Taxwatch discovered that smaller class sizes may not help academic outcomes nearly as much as a small school environment.
Bob Nave, the reports’ author, suggests that Florida place its focus on creating smaller schools rather than smaller class sizes, in order to increase grades.
“It’s fairly common sense that smaller classes should result in improved student performance,” Nave says. “The problem is the research just doesn’t back that up.”
According to the research, students in smaller schools were found to have better math and reading skills, fewer behavioral issues, and were more likely to participate in extracurricular activities. Students in these types of schools were also more likely to graduate.
Nave said that in 2000, Florida was actually on track to have smaller schools. However, that all changed after state Legislature passed a law that limits the size of new schools under construction. After that, the class size amendment was passed.
“The Legislature was forced not only to fund small schools, but now they had to fund small classes,” Nave says. “When one looks at the amount of money that was projected for school construction, it became clear that the Legislature could not do both.”
Lawmakers responded by repealing the school size law in order to focus on class sizes.
The report, Taking a Fresh Look at Florida’s Class Size Limits: Smaller Schools, not Smaller Classes, states that Florida has nothing to show for its $30 billion investment in small class sizes. However, the state teacher’s union says the amendment is not performing the way voters intended for it to.
“If they would implement class size appropriately, we might see what it was meant to be,” says Joanne McCall, vice president of the Florida Education Association. “The Florida Legislature has decided that they would change things, and they eliminated a whole bunch of courses that would be affected by the class size.”
While districts who do not conform to the core class size limit must pay a fine, many classes today are not considered to be core classes, meaning that classes within the field of science could have more students than an English class may have.
Those parents looking for smaller schools must often times resort to a private or charter school.
The report found that public elementary and middle schools in the state hold the highest average enrollment in the country, with high school enrollment coming in at nearly twice the national average, writes Gina Jordan for State Impact.
The School of Arts and Sciences (SAS) in Tallahassee, which enrolls just over 300 students, is one example of a small school in the state that has consistently been rated an “A” school for the last decade. School costs are kept low through their employees, many of whom are part-time.
Although the school has a larger elementary class size than is dictated by the amendment, Principal Julie Fredrickson says they are allowed to do so.
“The way we meet it in elementary school is because we have two certified teachers in each classroom,” Fredrickson says. “For us, it isn’t just class size; it’s the way we’re teaching them. If you’re studying plants, then the plant is in there and you’re tearing the plant apart. So a small group can do that and get messy, and another group is doing research with the teacher. We can do those sorts of things.”