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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Florida's Class Size Amendment: A Case Study in How to Undermine the Will of the Voter

From Kafka

If you are a teacher in Florida, you may be wondering “Hey, what happened to the class size amendment this year?” Of course, you would have to be a teacher who was lucky enough to teach one of the 327 (out of 1200) courses still covered by the class size amendment. It seems every year since the Florida Class Size amendment was passed (twice), the Florida legislature has found a way to reduce the amount of courses that fall under the class size cap. In 2012, Advanced Placement teachers got a taste of what it’s like to be a PE teacher when AP classes were declared “electives” and AP class sizes ballooned to over 40 students. But now even teachers in core classes  have noticed that the class size amendment has seemingly disappeared this year. At my school we’ve been scratching our heads at Curricululm Council meetings trying to figure out why the district hasn’t released any additional funds to hire new teachers when we have 40 core classes of over 40 students each. After a few minutes of playing Google detective, I happened upon the answer to the riddle that has been befuddling teachers across the state,
A little known bill was passed last summer that now allows school districts that don’t meet class size caps to calculate class size based on school wide averages rather than the size of the individual class, thus greatly reducing the fine (by approximately 3/4) that school districts have to pay the state for being out of compliance. Here is some of the language of the bill:
The bill revises the method for calculating the penalty for traditional public schools that fail to comply with the class size requirements by performing the calculation in Steps 2, 3, and 4 at the school average instead of at the classroom level. The increase in the penalty scheduled to begin in FY 2014-15 and thereafter is repealed. School districts must continue to assign students to teachers in a manner that meets the classroom level maximums. Districts that exceed the classroom level maximums will still be required to implement a compliance plan. However, calculation of the penalty at the school average will reduce the monetary penalties levied against school districts.
The bill does not have a fiscal impact on state government. The bill’s changes to the compliance calculation for traditional public schools will likely have a positive fiscal impact on school districts. See Fiscal Impact on Local Governments.
The bill takes effect July 1, 2014.”
Not only does the state get away with not funding the class size amendment, but it actually makes money off of school districts who do not comply by imposing fines! Of course, this makes school districts hate the class size amendment as much as the Florida legislature and last summer our Superintendent of the Year made sure to hammer the final nail in the Florida class size amendment coffin by making sure the fine was reduced and school averages could be used for traditional public schools, (see list of 2014 Legislative priorities)
There seems to be great agreement among school district officials that small classes hurt students.
Miami-Dade Assistant Superintendent Iraida Mendez-Cartaya spoke in support of the proposal. Mendez-Cartaya said complying with class-size limits was “not always in the best interest of family and students.”
In Brevard County, Cyndi Van Meter, Brevard’s associate superintendent of curriculum and instruction was quoted as saying,
“It wasn’t all about the money,” Van Meter said. “It was about doing what was best for kids.”
Apparently, it has become quite the rage for district officials to claim that large class sizes are in the best interest of children. It’s funny how you can follow up any absurd statement with “It’s what’s best for kids” and nobody will question you. Beware, “It’s what’s best for kids”  is usually preceded by a statement which coincides with adults making a lot of money. Watch how it works.
  • “We need to put vending machines in schools that sell addictive crap food. It’s what’s best for kids.”
  • “We need to give every student an iPad and digital curriculum. It’s what’s best for kids.”
  • “We need longer, tougher, more frequent computer based high stakes testing. It’s what’s best for kids.”
See how easy it is! The district claims it has no money to meet the Florida class size amendment, but it had money to pay for a full day substitute for me to attend a PD telling me how teach the same way I’ve been teaching for the past ten years before it became packaged as a “history lab” or the “gradual release model.” They are taking teachers out of the classroom (teachers that could have been used to meet the class size compliance) and sending them around to schools across the district to terrorize other teachers into using group work. As one teacher with an inclusion class of 55 students pointed out at my PD session today, “You can’t put the kids in groups with 55 students in a room.” Amen sister.

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