Written by: Kim Schroeder – MTEA President
Administrators & New Furniture vs. Reduced Class Sizes with more 1:1 attention for Children
On July 1, of 2015 Scott Walker signed into law Wisconsin Act 53. This law phases out the class-size reduction program known as the Student Achievement Guarantee in Education (SAGE) program that provides eligible schools per-pupil funding for each low-income K-3 student. The new law replaces SAGE with the Achievement Gap Reduction (AGR) program. There is no significant difference between the SAGE funding for 2015-2016 and the AGR funding for next school year.
Currently, Milwaukee Public Schools are home to 62 of 325 Wisconsin SAGE schools that receive class size reduction funding for grades K-5 through 3rd. Under the new program, schools that were eligible for SAGE will continue to receive per-pupil funding, but they are no longer under legal obligation to limit class size as long as they incorporate suggested AGR strategies. As a result of the shift to AGR, the MPS administration has proposed an extreme plan to create 62 new positions, which can be teachers or administrators, spend tens of thousands of dollars on classroom refurbishments and eliminate over 120 front-line classroom teacher positions.
MPS has softened the impact of their original plan by giving school communities the authority to decide the role of those 62 positions. Who makes that decision is still unclear. And, while every school might want another professional, is it worth losing the class size reduction which has been a hallmark of our early childhood programs in our neediest schools?
There are 4 serious problems with the MPS Administration’s proposal:
- This plan hurts our children and families
Reviews of major research reveal that our children benefit from the 1:1 attention smaller class sizes provide. MPS’s plan will take those needed resources away from our youngest students.
Eliminating well over 120 front-line teaching positions and replacing them with 62 positions that could be administrators takes resources away from our children. This plan and its rationale are not student centered. It would take away valuable in-class support professionals that provide one-on-one attention.
Research shows that the benefits from class-size reduction are greater for low-income and minority children. Increasing class sizes will only harm our most vulnerable student population.
- MPS’s current proposal would increase class size for students in grades 1, 2 and 3
The move from SAGE to AGR does not require larger class sizes and leaves the decision up to each local school district. MPS will still receive per-pupil funding for all 62 former SAGE schools. The Department of Public Instruction (DPI) lets school districts decide how to utilize its recommended strategies, which means there is no need for MPS to abandon limits on class size that ensure educators can give K-3 students the one-on-one attention shown to improve student outcomes.
- The MPS administration is engaging in an undemocratic process by trying to create 62 potential new administrator positions without school board approval
The publicly elected school board has the authority to decide how the school year 2016-17 budget will be spent, yet the district posted 62 administrator positions called Early Childhood Program Coordinators on the employee portal before the elected School Board had even approved the shift in personnel.
While the exact number of front-line teaching positions that would be eliminated is not provided, a low estimate of 2 teachers per building would eliminate well over 120 teaching positions!
- MPS class size ratios are already higher than nearby districts
Families desire communities with well-resourced public schools with small class sizes. When we look at MPS student to teacher ratios compared to other districts, there is a significant issue of disparity. Increasing the current class size ratio will amplify this imbalance and lead to more families fleeing the Milwaukee Public School system.
Class size ratio in other districts :
- Mequon is 17:1
- Glendale 16:1
- Waukesha 17:1
- South Milwaukee 17:1
- Milwaukee 21:1
If we eliminate effective class size reduction strategies, how will MPS attract or retain families?
MPS could be using the AGR resources in a way that would ensure smaller class sizes in early grades K-3 that are proven to boost student academic achievement.
Here’s what you can do:
First, call your publicly elected School Board member and Terry Falk, citywide school board director. Let the Board know the stories of the children in your classroom. Your voices and those of our families need to be heard.
Second, show up with your parents and community next Tuesday, April 12th at 5:30 p.m. for the Strategic Planning and Budget Committee of the School Board and bear witness to the value of class size reduction for our kids.