Texas teachers are adapting to expanding classes and shrinking staffs.
Ask Phyllis Causey what time she goes to lunch, and the third-grade teacher will give a very specific answer: 11:55 a.m.
“I live on a timer,” she said.
Every minute is accounted for in her meticulously planned workdays. To some extent, that is true every school year. But last fall, for the first time in her 12 years of teaching, 23 students were enrolled in her San Antonio elementary school class — making those minutes even more precious.
“As a teacher, when you know you are planning the day out for 23 kids, every single minute counts,” she said. “It’s an art and a science to balance out everybody.”
Many Texas teachers have found themselves in a similar predicament as they learn to cope with expanding classes and shrinking school staffs.
Texas Education Agency data for the 2011-12 school year show that the expanding classes have caused the number of elementary classes to exceed the 22-student cap. Enrollment has soared to 8,479 from 2,238 last school year.
Texas has had the 22-student cap for kindergarten through fourth-grade classes since 1984, and districts can apply for exemptions for financial reasons. But during the 2011 legislative session, to ease the pain of a roughly $5.4 billion reduction in state financing that did not account for the estimated influx of 170,000 new students over the next two years — and after an attempt to do away with the cap failed — lawmakers made those exemptions easier to obtain.
Texas schools, which have shed approximately 25,000 employees this school year, including more than 10,000 teachers, have jumped at the chance to trim costs.
Research is mixed on the effect of expanding classes on learning, but many educators agree that adding just two students to an already full classroom can intensify the challenge for teachers.
Some worry that expanding classes hurt the neediest students most.
Budget cuts have affected all of the state’s 1,200-plus school districts and charters, but the 102 fastest-growing districts, which have absorbed 92 percent of the growth in student population since 2007, have been hit the hardest by expanding classes.
About 46 percent of these fast-growth districts have campuses with waivers, compared with 28 percent of non-fast-growth districts, according to an analysis of TEA data by the Fast Growth School Coalition.
The coalition advocates for districts that have an enrollment of at least 2,500 and have grown by at least 10 percent or 3,500 students over the past five years. Those districts educate about 40 percent of the state’s students.
In the past, these schools have been able to add staff members and build facilities as the number of students increases.
But now, even as the student body continues to grow, CONTINUE READING..
Information provided by TexasTribune.org
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