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Understanding Class Size in Saint Paul Public Schools

Nov. 16, 2017

During contract negotiations on Thursday, Nov. 9, the Saint Paul Federation of Teachers (SPFT) union proposed strict limits on the number of students in a classroom. The proposal could have unintended impacts on students and families.

Saint Paul Public Schools (SPPS) responded with a counter proposal that maintains the small class sizes the union ratified in its 2013-15 and 2015-17 contracts. The district’s proposal also asks for flexibility in order to grow enrollment for schools that are below 95 percent of their total enrollment capacity.

Setting strict limits on class size as proposed would:

  • Present long-term effects on schools that are trying to grow enrollment
  • Eliminate flexibility to allow students into high demand schools and programs
  • Reduce funds for other programs in order to pay for new salaries
  • Limit the ability to hire extra classroom and support staff (teaching assistants, counselors, etc.)
  • Increase need for classroom space leading to new construction costs (in millions of dollars)

HOW CLASS SIZE WORKS

SPPS and SPFT agreed to the following class size ranges in 2014. Though the agreement only reduced class size by two or three students below district guidelines, it contributed to an estimated $32 million in salary costs at the time.

CURRENT CLASS SIZE RANGES

The class size ranges for higher poverty schools in which the highest percentage of students are eligible for free and reduced-price lunch.

The class size ranges for lower poverty schools.

Grades

    Class Size Range  

Pre-K

20 or less

K

20 - 24

1-3

22 - 25

4-5

25 - 28

6-8

29 - 33*

9-12

30 - 35*

Grades

    Class Size Range  

Pre-K

20 or less

K

22 - 26

1-3

22 - 27

4-5

25 - 29

6-8

29 - 35*

9-12

30 - 37*

*The range for secondary grade levels applies to core content classes. Core content classes include social studies, math, English and science. The ranges also include art or technology classes with a studio or lab component.


CURRENT CLASS SIZES

The Center for Public Education has reviewed class size research and found that “a class size of no more than 18 students per teacher is required to produce the greatest benefits,” especially for grades K-3. SPPS agrees that small classes are an admirable goal, but the current proposal is not sustainable for the district, costing an initial estimate of $91 million in salaries that would then become a part of the contract. The SPPS negotiations team is open to a cost neutral compromise if union leaders identify this proposal as a priority.

If a class size goes over the ranges listed, SPPS:

  • Provides additional teaching or support staff for the classroom.
  • Splits the class into two classrooms if space is available, and offer additional staff.
  • Sends the student to another nearby school that has available room.

Reasons for individual class sizes above the ranges listed include:

  • Keeping families together in one school
  • Supporting students in attending a school closer to home
  • Accommodating families experiencing homelessness or other unstable situations.
  • More students than expected need a class to make progress toward graduation, so additional students are allowed into the class

2017-18 Average Class Size Across the District

Elementary Schools Middle Schools 6-8**

Senior High (9-12) /
Secondary (6-12)**

ELEMENTARY CLASS SIZE middle senior

94 percent of all elementary grade levels have an average class size at or below the ranges specified in the contract.*
96 percent of all middle grade (6-8, including K-8 schools) teachers have an average class size at or below the ranges specified in the contract.**
99 percent of all high school (6-12 and 9-12) teachers have an average class size at or below the ranges specified in the contract.**

*Does not include self-contained Special Education or multi-grade classrooms, such as Montessori.
** Does not include teachers who have classes of 50 percent or more special education.

The needs of students help determine class size and whether those classes should be larger than the ranges listed. However, it’s important to note that the SPFT contract uses averaging to determine class size, rather than the number of students in an individual classroom. For example:

ELEMENTARY
Average per grade level in each school.
A school with three 4th grade classrooms has class sizes of 25.0, 26.0 and 31.0. The average class size for 4th grade in the school would be 27 (27.3). This number is within the class size range of 25 - 28 for a higher poverty school and 25 - 29 for a lower poverty school and therefore no remedy or exception would be necessary.

SECONDARY
Average per secondary teacher within core content classes (including art or technology classes with a studio or lab).
A secondary school teacher has 9-12 grade science classes that include 15 students (9th grade), 38 students (10th grade) and 38 students (12th grade). The average science class size for this teacher is 30 (30.3),which is within the class size range of 30-35 (higher poverty) and 30-37 (lower poverty) for grades 9-12. This scenario would not require any remedy or exception to satisfy agreements related to class size.


Average Class Size by Elementary Grade Levels

School Year

Pre-K

K

1

2

3

4

5

2017-18

19

23

24

24

24

26

26

2016-17

19

23

23

24

24

26

26

2015-16

19

23

24

24

25

26

26

Elementary class size averages for each grade level are within the class size ranges specified in the contract. The latest data is available here.

 

Average Class Size by Secondary Grade Levels

School Year

Middle Schools 6-8

Senior High (9-12) / Secondary (6-12)

2017-18

25

25

2016-17

24

24

2015-16

24

25

On average, secondary class sizes for the 10 largest subject areas have been within or below the class size ranges specified in the contract. The latest data is available here.