Small class sizes are a tool to achieve academic success

Ask any parent and they’ll tell you, a small class size brings a sense of well-being that comes from knowing your child’s teacher will have ample time to get to know and connect with your child. As class sizes have steadily gone up over the last few years, I’ve stood at the back of my own kids’ classroom doing a silent head count and wondered, how in the world their teacher would have time to manage the class, much less impart the knowledge they need to be successful.

One of my top priorities as a member of the Minnesota House has been funding for public education. Recently, I brought a group of legislators to visit with parents, students and educators at Carver Elementary School to discuss how growing class sizes have impacted the quality of education at the school. At that visit, DFL legislators unveiled a plan to offer schools some help in bringing class sizes down. The bill is not another mandate - rather, it provides incentives for lower class sizes in targeted subjects and grade levels and helps parents track the number of students in their children’s classrooms. The straightforward plan offers additional funding to schools that are able to meet the recommended guidelines of fewer than 20 students in kindergarten through third grade classrooms and fewer than 25 in grades 4-6. Core subjects like English, math and science classes in middle and high school would also see reductions in the number of students. The bill also requires the commissioner of education to include class-size information on school performance report cards.

Research backs up the argument for small class sizes. Recent test results in Wisconsin showed that students in smaller classrooms scored higher on their achievement tests, and perhaps most significantly, were more likely to narrow the achievement gap between white students and students of color. New requirements passed during the last several years now require students to master hundreds of new standards and meet ever-higher proficiency levels. Higher expectations are a good thing. If we want our students to succeed in the competitive world of higher education and the global marketplace, we need to make sure our K-12 schools provide the best learning environment possible.

As legislators, our job is to provide the resources necessary for students and schools to be successful. We took a good first step in passing a significant funding increase for schools during the 2005 session, and by May most of the shift money will have been paid back.

But we must do more. Growing class sizes are unacceptable, especially in Minnesota, the “education state”. Low class sizes are a tool to help schools achieve academic success, giving us a competitive edge over other states. This class size reduction bill is a good first step to make sure our kids and our classrooms get the resources they need, so parents doing the head count in the back of the class can breathe a sigh of relief.

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