As many of you know, Delaware State Code mandates that class sizes in grades K-3 be capped at no more than 22 students. For years, almost every school district has never met this part of state code. Meaning, class sizes have generally crept up over 22 students. It has become a regular practice for all school boards in the state to pass a waiver to this requirement. It’s become a routine. A district can’t make the class-size mandate? Pass a waiver.
On Wednesday night, the Red Clay School Board met for its monthly meeting. On the agenda was the annual class-size-waiver vote. The Director of Elementary Schools gave a detailed, informative presentation on the waiver and listed the schools that didn’t meet the law’s requirements. Of our 14 elementary schools, only two met the class-size requirements outlined in state law. So, the District was asking the Board to grant it a waiver for those schools.
Discussion at the Board meeting was lively and engaging surrounding this issue. It’s clear we’ve reached a tipping point in how our schools are funded and how units (teachers) are used in schools. For years, the Board has held its nose while it’s passed this waiver. I say “held its nose” because I’ve never spoken to a Board member who’s LIKED passing the waiver. For years, we’ve seen these waivers pass in most districts with little action on the state level to bring about some change. For years we’ve continued to see our class sizes in K-3 hover above 22 students (sometimes hover way above 22 students). For years. For years. For years.
Well, on Wednesday night, the Board voted on the waiver and the motion failed to garner the four-vote majority needed for passage. The vote tied, 3-3, with one Board member absent. Many parents, educators, and community members in the audience cheered. It is my understanding that Red Clay is the first district in state history to say “No” to the class size waiver.
RCEA took no position on this waiver frankly, because, we’d become so accustomed to its annual passage and hadn’t even considered it at our last Rep Council meeting. Now, to be sure, we have always listened to the concerns teachers have brought to us regarding class sizes and have had great conversations with District on how we can progress in this area. Those conversations with District have often led to positive actions to help reduce class sizes in some instances well before the time of year when the waiver comes to the Board for a vote. Also, RCEA philosophically believes that smaller class sizes will achieve far greater student results, particularly in our highest-needs schools, where research shows that lowering class sizes to between 13-17 can have a very dramatic impact.
In the coming weeks you will be hearing more from RCEA on Actions that you can take to get the conversation started about class sizes and school funding issues. I’ve spoken personally with half-a-dozen legislators in Dover who are ready to tackle this issue. However, in order to gain any traction, we will need you. We will need your phone calls. We will need your letters. We will need you to show up to legislative events. We will need you at Board meetings. We will need you talking to your families and neighbors. We will need you to communicate that though the State’s 16.2 students to 1 teacher ratio SEEMS totally great, when put into practice it’s extremely challenging. You see, out of that ratio we also need to have schools staffed with ABSOLUTELY essential personnel like unified arts teachers, counselors, behavior specialists, psychologists, EDs, etc. These positions are CRITICAL to schools running smoothly, yet by their very nature they then increase the student-to-teacher ratio in our elementary homerooms.
There are still many questions to ask and answer about “what this vote means” for the educators and students in Red Clay. RCEA is working closely with District Administration, which is in turn working with the State Department of Education to figure out a path forward in the wake of the waiver vote’s failure. What we know, though, is that it’s clear people have had enough of the state and its underfunded class-size mandate. If the state is going to require classes be a certain size, then it’s time they find the funding and support what WE as educators know is best practice. And that is smaller, more manageable class sizes. The state can talk all it wants about “teacher effectiveness” and “teacher quality” and “Component V” and “rigor” and “data! data! data!,” but WE know what works. We live it every day. WE know our students. We greet them every morning. WE know our jobs. We do them all the time. It’s time the State supported us in what WE know is the right thing to do.
As I said to some people on Wednesday evening, we are entering uncharted territory with this vote. We may have some challenging conversations and actions ahead of us.
But then no one said our jobs were ever going to be easy.
All the best, have a great weekend, and please stay in touch!