Atlanta School Board Waffles Over Increasing Class Sizes


At a meeting of the Atlanta Public Schools Board of Education, the board approved a waiver that would allow the district to exceed maximum class size rules.

The vote, which was made quickly, brought a surge of parental disapproval. Rachel Stockman of WSB-TV reports that one parent told the board that she felt parents had not had input included in the decision. The board explained that the waiver means that class size may increase, but not that it will.

An example given was that the state maximum for kindergarten classrooms is 20 students; the waiver would allow up to 25 students if necessary. If the district did not have the waiver option, it would be necessary to hire more teachers at a cost of millions of dollars.

However, the week prior to approving the waiver,the board in a split vote had rejected the request to apply for a waiver on the maximum number of students in a class, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Atlanta Public Schools currently have class sizes that range from 12 to 27, but some classes are larger. Rejecting the waiver came after the board had decided that smaller class sizes were a lower priority than teacher raises when in April the district's budget was approved, also by a split vote.

Meria Carstarphen, school superintendent, said the administration was not in the position to become involved in a district-wide effort to reduce class sizes. She added that some information concerning class-size counts are not correct. She hoped the board would wait so that better preparations could be made for the future. The waiver decision is not due until spring.

The board did, at that same time, accept a request to apply for a waiver that would allow a deviation from state rules concerning the percentage of money spent on instruction compared to what is spent on other areas, such as administration. Atlanta's school system spending for administration is one of the highest in the nation, but state law says spending on instruction must be 65% of a district's total spending or that the percentage of spending on instruction increases by 2% compared to the previous school year.

The FiveThirtyEight Newsletter's Amelia Thomson-Deveaux says that reducing class-size is not the remedy that many say it is. Intuitively, it seems that in smaller classes students will receive more attention individually, there will be fewer distractions and more room to work and move around. However, many economists and education policy leaders say that class-size studies are inconclusive. Even those who support smaller class sizes are wondering if it is the best or most cost-effective way to improve public education.

"I think class-size reduction is a smart and sound policy in lots of cases," said Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, an associate professor of human development and social policy at Northwestern University. "But as an economist, I have to think about what would be the best use of the next dollar spent, and for an across-the-board reduction of this magnitude, the evidence just isn't there."


12 15, 2014
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