By Sarah Varney
At the Jan. 12 meeting, the Rye City Board of Education will hear a proposal to change the class size policy for grades three through five to allow 20 to 25 students per class.
The current policy with recommended class sizes of 18 to 22 students would remain in effect for kindergarten through second grade. Due diligence and the need for flexibility in accommodating enrollment fluctuations are the primary reasons for the proposed increase, according to Dr. Betty Ann Wyks, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.
“It’s budget time and these things come up,” said Wyks, who will be presenting the proposal to the school board.
Karen Belanger, a member of the city Board of Education, added that space constraints, aligned with enrollment increases in certain grades, are a continuing factor. Belanger is the chairwoman of the board’s school policy committee.
Unanticipated enrollment growth in the district’s schools has been a frequent factor over the last few years. During the 2014-2015 school year, overcrowding in 10th grade math classes necessitated adding another class, for which an additional math teacher was hired this past summer, according to school district officials. This year, the districtwide fifth grade class is “massive,” according to Sarah Derman, the district’s chief information officer. Rye Middle School gained 81 students for the current 2015-2016 school year. An enrollment increase at Rye High School during the 2014-2015 school year translated to approximately 100 students migrating into grades nine to 12.
“[The proposed policy change] gives us a way to start a discussion,” Belanger said. “It is a subject that needs to be discussed from an educational standpoint, the standpoint of space constraints and from a financial standpoint.”
Belanger stressed that cost-saving is not likely to be a huge factor in this policy discussion.
The current policy that recommends 18 to 22 students per class has been in place since July 2011. “Reasonable class sizes” without proscribed numbers is the policy for the middle and high schools, according to the current policy.
At the Jan. 12 meeting, Wyks will use a Brookings Institute 2011 compilation of class size research conducted in the United States and Canada since the mid-2000s to determine the recommended class size. The majority of those studies seem to suggest that for economically disadvantaged students, fewer students make a big difference.
Molly Ness, a Midland School mother and assistant professor of childhood education at Fordham University’s Graduate School of Education, agreed that the research is mixed on the effects of class size.
“The research is really split on this, but overall it is not compelling enough to say that [an increase in suggested class sizes] would necessarily be a bad thing,” she said.
The fact that fifth-graders will soon move on to middle school and a larger class anyway is also a mitigator, Ness added. Research is more unified in showing that class sizes matter less in both middle school and high school also, she noted.
And in Rye, even if the proposed increase in class sizes for grades three through five does come to pass, it might not be very problematic. “If the proposal passes and parents aren’t happy, they’ll go out and get tutors for their kids,” Ness said.
Wyks noted that the flexibility to have either as few as 20 students to as many as 25 students in a class would not be drastic enough to have much of an impact. Starting in third grade, the developmental differences between children are pretty much evened out, she said.
In education circles, the 20 to 25 student range is considered “medium.” Eighteen to 22 students is considered small, and 27 to 32 students in a class is considered large.
Even so, “our big class sizes aren’t really that big in the real world,” Wyks said.