Increasing Class Sizes, Cutting Course Offerings, and Replacing Department Chairs
Although our teachers are grateful for the Board’s understanding of the gravity of their decisions, concern is rising over voting on specific cuts despite the Board releasing their report regarding these cuts so close to Monday’s board meeting.
|If the report is not ready, as suggested by the recent Board agenda posting: “Due to the size and complexity of the report and the compressed timeline between December 4 and December 7 to complete it, the memo summarizing the final report will be posted Monday afternoon before the Board meeting,” decisions should be delayed until everyone has all the pertinent information with time to fully consider and exhaust all options before implementing cuts.|
Two specific cuts would negatively impact the current level of academic excellence: drastically increasing class size and radically restructuring the academic department chair model.
Increasing Class Sizes
For years, our schools have been touted as among the best in the state. When District 86 is compared to other high performing peer districts, we see their class sizes are significantly lower than the average presented at the Dec. 3 board meeting of 28:1. Increasing class sizes by 40% above the state average would create a significant barrier to maintaining the current level of academic excellence in D86. Larger classes mean less individual attention to students, an outcome no one wants.
Cutting Course Offerings
Reducing course offerings is a likely side effect of increasing class sizes as indicated in the December 3 Board agenda:
Elective classes consist of those classes that go beyond required courses for graduation . . . electives are in science, mathematics, social studies, and English, not just arts and music, and the biggest reductions are not surprisingly in the core curriculum departments because those are the biggest departments. Reducing the number of sections or courses reduces opportunities for students. For example, at Central this year, had we staffed using 28 students per class, AP Physics C would have been reduced to one section from two and we would not even have run AP Seminar and Research.
Damage to our tradition of excellence is inevitable if courses such as the ones above stand to be lost as a result of increased class sizes. The unintended consequences of such an increase would literally produce fewer opportunities for our students.
Replacing Department Chairs
Just as class size stands to negatively impact the quality of education, so does moving to a Division Head model. Several local school districts have tried the Division Head model and returned to the DC model. Our current model of Department Chairs is the industry standard. If we lose DCs, students and parents lose access to a credible administrator when they need guidance about grades and course selection. Teachers lose their “closest, most trusted, instructional coaches in their chairs at a time when their teaching load will become even more challenging,” (Anderson) further impacting the quality of instruction students receive. Keeping a familiar structure in hard times and mandating common curriculum, texts, or assessments will be most effective with the current Department Chairs. The implementation of the recently created strategic plan will in and of itself work toward curricular equity, something our experienced Department Chairs are better suited to tackle.
Additionally, the cost savings from replacing Department Chairs with Division Heads has been very hard for the District to estimate. Between the November 19th meeting and the December 3rd meeting, the cost savings shrank by more than $1,400,000, from approximately 1.5 million down to $91,000.
Our hope is that in making these difficult decisions, the Board prioritizes student opportunity and maintaining academic excellence as not to risk potentially irreversible harm to our tradition of excellence.