Byline: CARLY ROTHMAN
Florida public schools will not be allowed to expand their use of co-teaching this year or to use any co-teaching to meet class-size standards the following year, according to a policy announced this summer by the state Department of Education.
The announcement came just a few weeks before schools opened, and some educators say the state has not given enough time or funding to develop other solutions.
In Duval County, which had the highest number of co-taught classes in the state last year with 1,367, school administrators say the district will be hit hard.
In a co-teaching situation, a single classroom holds a large number of students but is led by two full-time teachers to lower the student-teacher ratio.
"Co-teaching was permitted as an interim measure so schools could be moving toward class-size reduction," said Department of Education spokeswoman Cheryl Etters. "It was never intended as a solution."
But Duval County's associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction, Ed Pratt-Dannals, said the decision was an unexpected shift in policy.
"This is, quite frankly, something of a surprise because it's a change from the way they had earlier interpreted the class-size amendment," Pratt-Dannals said.
"We're just implementing the law," Etters said. "The voters are the ones who said they wanted it."
CHANGING THE RULES
In 2002, Florida voters approved a measure requiring schools to reduce class sizes to 18 students in grades pre-K-3, 22 in grades 4-8 and 25 in grades 9-12 by 2010.
By the 2006-07 academic year, schools will be required to report class-size averages by school rather than district. Etters said the state Board of Education made its decision June 21 because schools were relying too heavily on co-teaching and would not be in compliance. The measure was meant to jump-start their class-size reduction efforts, she said.
"They [schools] should have been moving toward having more available class space all along," Etters said.
But schools lacking the funds to build new classrooms and the land on which to build them say co-teaching is the only means available to reduce the number of students per teacher.
And because the policy was not announced to district superintendents until July 13, some principals were on vacation and many schools had already arranged for additional co-teachers by the time they heard about the decision.
"I have no other options," said Principal Sherry Adams of Crown Point Elementary School in Duval County. "I can't go 'poof!' and put buildings out there. I can't pitch tents that are air-conditioned. It's another unfunded mandate."
Etters said the Legislature allocated $1.38 billion in 2003-04 and a comparable sum in 2004-05 to districts to reduce class size. But figures released by the department show that the estimated cost of implementing the amendment is between $20 billion and $28 billion. If schools cannot meet the mandated class sizes by the set deadlines, the department requires them to use operating funds normally used for teacher salaries and materials for construction of new permanent or relocatable classrooms.
Adams said her school has a higher number of co-taught classes than last year. Despite the state's new orders, Adams said she has no way to reduce that number.
"We physically do not have the rooms to do differently," she said.
MORE RELOCATABLE CLASSROOMS?
Clay and St. Johns counties have not relied on co-teaching to meet the demands of the class-size amendment. But Walter Brock, Clay County's assistant superintendent for instruction, said the district has used co-teaching as an emergency measure to relieve overcrowded schools while new construction is under way.
"Absolutely, it will hurt us not to be able to use co-teaching in an emergency situation," Brock said. …