Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL

December 18, 2012

Unit 50 teachers warn against larger classes

Bill Grimes
Effingham Daily News

TEUTOPOLIS — Teutopolis school officials have said all aspects of school district operations are on the proverbial table in light of an estimated $1 million in budget cuts needed for the 2013-14 school year.

Monday, a group of teachers asked the Unit 50 Board of Education to think hard before making any budgetary moves that would increase class sizes.

High school math teacher Tim Bower said studies had proven a direct correlation between class size and student achievement.

"Students with smaller class sizes were more likely to go to college, had higher test scores and were generally more engaged," Bower said. "There was also more student-teacher interaction and a stronger sense of belonging."

Bower said increased class sizes also lead to more special education referrals, as well as more need for tutoring. He added that it is often the middle-range student who suffers the most in a large class.

"Smaller class sizes allow teachers to reach students before they fall through the cracks," he said.

Junior high math teacher Amy Oseland said the implementation of common core standards in Illinois schools would make an increase in class sizes even more unmanageable.

"If we add five to seven more students, it will make it overwhelming," Oseland said. "Larger class sizes will hamper teaching to the level of mastery."

Oseland said the common core curriculum - designed to help American students catch up with students in other developed nations, particularly in math and science - is going to require students to focus on a greater level.

"It will be harder to keep students from falling behind," she said. "There will also be several years that we will have students with holes in their learning."

Junior high language arts teacher Jeannie Gaddis said it's not just math students who will suffer with larger class sizes.

"I'm fearful for some of my seventh graders if they don't get the individualized attention they need," Gaddis said. "We always have students who don't understand the assignment. Adding five to seven students makes me concerned about students who might fall through the cracks."

Gaddis said she's concerned about students from a parent's perspective, as well.

"As a parent of children, I am fearful for them," she said.

Gaddis said an increasing number of parents might consider private schools if class sizes are increased to what she feels are an unmanageable level.

"Parochial schools will become a big topic because of the smaller class sizes," she said.

The board set a special meeting for 7 p.m. Jan. 3 to discuss potential cuts. Board president Marty Siemer said any cuts would likely be implemented during the board's February or March meetings.

The Jan. 3 meeting will be held at the high school media center.

In action taken Monday, the board passed the annual tax levy after a public hearing before Monday's meeting. The proposed levy of $3,762,954 would be an 8.7 percent increase over last year's levy because of an expected increase in total property value within the school district.

A higher levy does not necessarily correspond to a higher tax rate, however. School districts are effectively mandated to collect all they can from local property owners or risk losing a portion of their state aid.

Also Monday, the board accepted the pending retirement of first grade teacher Cynthia Niemerg.

Bill Grimes can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 132, or at bill.grimes@effinghamdailynews.com.