Class-Size Law Has Downside, Study Reveals; More, Less-Experienced, Teachers Could Mean a Drop in Teaching Quality

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Byline: BETH KORMANIK

When Florida voters decided to limit school class sizes in 2002, they latched onto a simple premise: Students would learn better in smaller classes.

With school districts now implementing that law, a policy research group has studied its "unintended consequences," and the findings paint a gloomy picture.

The report from the Council for Education Policy, Research and Improvement concluded that hiring a large quantity of teachers would decrease overall teacher quality; that the benefits of smaller class sizes are unclear; and that the requirements will make it more difficult to offer low-demand classes such as higher-level math and sciences as well as remedial classes.

Then there is the issue of finding enough money to hire teachers and build schools that will be needed, potentially a multibillion-dollar price tag.

A draft of the report was discussed at the council's meeting Wednesday in Jacksonville.

The report also addressed wide-ranging issues that affect education and class size including teacher training, turnover and the availability of affordable housing for new teachers.

John Wiegman, associate executive officer of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, used hurricane terminology to describe the potential effects of the class-size requirements: "It could be a Category 5," he said.

The class-size amendment requires classes to have a maximum of 18 students in pre-kindergarten through third grade, 22 students in fourth through eighth grades and 25 students in high school by 2010.

The superintendents' association, which campaigned against the amendment, now is offering alternatives. Wiegman suggested that class-size limits could apply only to pre-kindergarten through third grade, or the state could delay some provisions.

Not everyone agrees with the report's conclusions. …