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Class size matters, especially in kindergarten

By an overwhelming majority, Minnesota’s kindergarten teachers say that current classroom sizes are degrading the quality of education in kindergarten classes.

In an online survey conducted by Minnesota 2020 and the Minnesota Kindergarten Association, kindergarten teachers across the state said the student-to-teacher ratio is almost 3.5 students over the maximum necessary to provide a quality education.

“All kindergarten children are needy,” one teacher wrote. Too many children in her class means she is “unable to give the one-on-one personal attention that each child needs.”

Another teacher agreed: Large class sizes means teachers can’t spend “enough time with each child.  Higher functioning children are often ignored due to so much time being spent with children with low academics skills.”

The anonymous survey was conducted in May and June and was answered by 127 of MKA’s 385 members.

Teaching more than optimal number
Teachers were asked about their current student-to-teacher ratio and what the optimal number of students per teacher should be. They said they teach an average of 20.4 students, while 17 students in each class would be a better number.

When asked if having more students than the optimal number causes the quality of education to suffer, 121 said yes while only 10 said no.

One teacher put it simply: “Young children need lots of attention and with a high number of students you can’t give each child the attention they need, let alone provide for their academic needs.”

Others elaborated. “Kindergarteners need that one-on-one attention every day. I feel I spend more one-on-one time with those who are falling behind and keeping them up to par; the others, if they are doing fine, then they don’t get that extra attention.”

“Young children need SO MUCH MORE one-one guidance as they learn to read/write. They are developing their learning behaviors, social skills, and growing socially all at the same time as we expect their cognitive/academic abilities to flourish. A young child that is struggling with some other areas of development most always needs more one-one teacher time with core curricular learning activities.”

Fed study boosted emphasis on early education
The emphasis on early education received an important boost in Minnesota when, in 2003, a study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis showed that investments in early education yield a high return in terms of lower educational costs, crime rates, and social service expenses. The study characterized high quality early education as well-trained teachers, low child-to-teacher ratios and the use of a research-based curriculum. The study has led to the creation of advocacy groups such as Ready 4 K and the Minnesota Early Learning Foundation which work to lower the number of kindergarten students in class.

Other studies back up the theory that smaller class sizes create better outcomes for students, especially in the early grades. A Tennessee study showed small classes led to significant improvements in reading and math, and benefits were greatest for students who started in small classes early (full-day kindergarten or first grade).

A Wisconsin project further reinforced the Tennessee study’s results. Students in smaller classes achieved higher test scores and had better behavior and fewer discipline problems, and teachers felt they were better able to provide individual attention. Minority and difficult-to-teach youngsters received greater benefits than other students.

When our state policymakers fail to invest in education to the tune of an inflation-adjusted 13 percent drop since 2003, teachers are cut and class sizes rise. The studies show what the teachers already know: Student-to-teacher ratios in kindergarten are too high and the education our students are receiving is worse because of it. This is not acceptable for any education system — including Minnesota, in which leaders claim to take pride in the education system yet underfund it at such a rate that students suffer.

John Fitzgerald is a fellow at Minnesota 2020, a nonpartisan, progressive think tank based in St. Paul. This article originally appeared on the organization’s website.

Comments (19)

  1. Submitted by Karen Sandness on 08/25/2009 - 10:37 am.

    Nobody who has ever taught on any level would argue that class size doesn’t make a difference.

    The younger the pupils, the more important this is. The Wisconsin school system that I attended during my elementary school years had no more than 15 in kindergarten and always fewer than twenty in first grade.

  2. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 08/25/2009 - 10:48 am.

    Ah, it’s Mystery Theater MN2020 time again! Hooray!

    Let’s see what truths they’ve conjured up for us today, shall we?

    “By an overwhelming majority, Minnesota’s kindergarten teachers say that current classroom sizes are degrading the quality of education in kindergarten classes.”

    Ah yes, of course; chaos in kindergarten.

    Children crammed into classrooms; harried teachers running to and fro, tearing their hair out, and trying mightily to maintain order. Yes, indeed. The crafty fellows at MN2020 certainly have a knack for capturing the doom and gloom resident in our state’s schools, don’t they?

    But let us not tarry, surely there is a villain to blame? Where is the scoundrel? Ah-ha! Just as I suspected; failed investments working their mischief, yet again.

    “When our state policymakers fail to invest in education to the tune of an inflation-adjusted 13 percent drop since 2003, teachers are cut and class sizes rise.”

    Egad! A 13% drop since 2003?

    Why, we have been criminally negligent, yet again! Shame, shame, all shame! But hark! Isn’t 2003 the year our current Governor, Timothy James Pawlenty took office?

    Of course; Republicans!…the mystery is solved; Matt Entenza be praised!

    Let us now focus our attentions towards the butcher’s bill the foul Republicans have left in their cruel wake, shall we? Steel yourselves friends, this is sure to be a bloody episode featuring deep, bone rending cuts.

    According to the Minnesota Department of Education, total operating revenue, which includes general revenue from the state, operating capital technical aid, and special education funds for the years between 2002 and 2010, is as follows:

    2003: 6,006,585,028
    2004: 6,104,295,856
    2005: 6,189,035,721
    2006: 6,451,183,232
    2007: 6,804,561,276
    2008: 7,208,847,204
    2009: 7,404,097,189

    Wait, what? Why those are *increases*! How can this be?

    Surely the Republicans have been engaged in mathematical necromancy here. Well we’ll be having none of it! Let us stealthily creep around their trap and boldly look the beast in its eyes. Percentages! What we need are percentages adjusted for inflation!

    Shhh; look:

    Relative to FY 1996, which is, unhelpfully, the year the Department of Education has chosen to base the current report from (it’s so trying when actors refuse to abide the script), and adjusted for inflation using the Consumer Price Index, which is how the department calculates its budget, actual revenues have plummeted by the following heartbreaking leaps and bounds:

    2003: +139.3%
    2004: +142.4%
    2005: +145.1%
    2006: +151.1%
    2007: +159.2%
    2008: +168.8%
    2009: +173.5%

    Oh noes! The rascally Republicans have beaten us to the punch again. Is there no end to their cruelty? An average annual 5.2% *increase*?

    Away, cruel facts; taunt us no more!

    And yet, all is not lost. Perhaps after further barbecuing and lawn mowing, John will provide the “director’s cut”, and what sweet, sweet succor it shall render!

    Friends, we can but hope.

    In the mean time, however, we’ll all just have to make do with the version published for public consumption..

    http://education.state.mn.us/MDE/Data/Data_Downloads/SchoolFinance/index.htm

  3. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 08/25/2009 - 01:55 pm.

    Finally, the wit and verbal musing of Swiftee.
    Thank goodness there is some humor back in the comments @ MinnPost.

    Honestly, I think Swiftee is still waiting for President Reagan to “abolish the Dept of Education”.

  4. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 08/25/2009 - 02:51 pm.

    Have any comments about the topic at hand, Richard? Oh; numbers….right.

  5. Submitted by Geoff Laskowski on 08/25/2009 - 04:34 pm.

    Mr. Swift,
    I’ll take a stab at the numbers. Mr Fitzgerald appears to be counting apples whereas you appear to be counting oranges. The Minnesota 2020 report summary (http://www.mn2020.org/index.asp?Type=B_BASIC&SEC={7F09F1E8-9EA2-4B4E-8F64-F85668A24973}) references “an inflation-adjusted 13 percent drop in aid since 2003”, not a 13 percent drop in MN Department of Education revenues, of which state aid is only a part.

    What has increased, as I’m sure you know, are the monies school districts have been required to raise via referendum (range D27:Q27 in the General Fund Revenue Trend report to which you linked):

    1996-1997 15%
    1997-1998 7%
    1998-1999 8%
    1999-2000 10%
    2000-2001 10%
    2001-2002 12%
    2002-2003 -47%
    2003-2004 46%
    2004-2005 18%
    2005-2006 6%
    2006-2007 12%
    2007-2008 8%
    2008-2009 12%

    If there’s any necromancy occurring, it’s the spell that the governor has cast which leads people to believe that his actions haven’t raised their taxes, albeit indirectly. I suppose all we need is more belt-tightening around the kitchen table, right?

    Also, it appears your percentage references for revenue increases appear to be from the unadjusted line (go about 16 rows down, range D79:Q79). The adjusted numbers do show a revenue increase to be sure, but not as hyperbolic as your post leads to believe.

    From 1996 to 2009, revenues adjusted for inflation increased an average of 2.5%.

    Cruel facts, indeed.

  6. Submitted by Karen Sandness on 08/25/2009 - 05:09 pm.

    Talk about not being on topic, Mr. Swift. The issue was class sizes, small classes being one of the things that affluent people pay $20,000 a year for when they send their children to Breck or Blake.

  7. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 08/25/2009 - 05:19 pm.

    As to adjusted total revenue; you’re right, Geoffrey; I stand corrected.

    However, I’m not sure how you can equate dollars gathered through excess levy referendums directly with loss of state aid…actually, I’m sure you can’t.

    Excess levy referendums were put before voters not only to cover increased operating expenses (increased teacher salaries being the largest part), but to finance new buildings, the hiring of more staff and the creation of new programs which wouldn’t have been figured into the general aid budget in the first place.

    Further, you’ll have to explain how an ever increasing state aid budget (standing alone)…

    FY 2003: 5,375,107,347
    FY 2004: 5,468,148,558
    FY 2005: 5,548,876,756
    FY 2006: 5,809,371,605
    FY 2007: 6,161,798,276
    FY 2008: 6,365,950,228
    FY 2009: 6,521,334,433

    …equates to a loss of *any* percentage?

    Especially when one considers that the CPI over the period at issue rose an aggregate 0.1447%!

    I do appreciate you taking time to try and sort out this edition of Mystery Science Theater MN202; seriously. And although you’ve perhaps missed the mark, I do think you show a better grasp of the topic than the authoring fellow.

    Truth be told and just between you and I, Geoffrey, I *love* facts. That’s why I *always* include a link to source documents when I’m using stastics.

  8. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 08/25/2009 - 06:43 pm.

    Geoffrey, I responded with a lengthy post which conceded your point regarding adjusted numbers, but pointing out (with the relevant numbers) that whatever way you slice it, the state’s funding for public education has increased, not decreased. And there is simply no way one can truthfully wring out a 13% decrease from the numbers.

    I also acknowledged my happiness at finally having someone with some intelligence step up to debate the issues with me.

    I can’t imagine why it may have been censored, but the workings of the liberal mind is incomprehensible to me. Maybe it will show up…or maybe this one will disappear as well; who knows?

    For the time being, allow me to respond to Karen.

    John’s vehicle to lay blame for increasing class sizes was a fictional 13% decrease in state funding, Karen. While Geoffry and I have differed a bit, we both agree that funding has increased well above the rate of inflation.

    So if money is not the culprit, what is? We know that it isn’t increasing enrollment; it’s down drastically across the state.

    So why are the kiddies getting herded into larger classes?

    The answer, my dear, is less teachers. And since we’ve shown that there has been a consistent increase in the revenues available to hire teachers, the lack thereof leads one to conclude that teachers with seniority have been snapping up that increased funding into pay increases for themselves.

    Don’t you agree that it’s ironic, Karen, that the districts with the very lowest graduation rates and lowest test scores across the board, are districts that receive more than 1/2 the per pupil tuition that affluent parents pay to give their kids the very best educations to be had in the state of Minnesota at prep schools like Breck and Blake?

    I would add, Karen, that my own children’s private educations which I’d proudly stack up against either of those fine schools, cost somewhat LESS than Saint Paul or Minneapolis school districts receive each year to fail to graduate a child.

    The point is, of course, that money is not what ails the public school system; Mr. Fitzgerald’s flawed fairy tale not withstanding.

  9. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 08/26/2009 - 07:12 am.

    Mr. Swift, Would you be able to share with us, why it was you were unable to achieve your goal of being elected to the St Paul school board in 2002?

    Clearly your passion about the subject is duly noted. Your attention to statistics and the cherry picking of numbers and data should have only helped make your case.

    It would appear though from all press accounts that you only managed a “few” votes in your campaign for the school board.
    My question to you is this:
    When armed with your list of data points, statistics and talking points. You clearly did not make an impact on the citizens of St. Paul and your own neighbors with your ideology and your vision for the future of education in St Paul?
    Your campaign was given a loud vote of no by the public. What do you think was the overwhelming reason for the results of that “referendum” of ideas and vision during that election process in 2002?

  10. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 08/26/2009 - 09:15 am.

    Well, Richard I can only guess that the scary smart leftist majority in St. Paul looked the district over and really, really liked what they saw, and voted for more of it.

    Saint Paul School District

    Graduation rate: 68%
    African-American: 38%
    Latino: 38%
    White: 67%
    http://www.manhattan-institute.org/pdf/cr_baeo.pdf (pg. 25)

    I guess St. Paul liberals are not all the way on board with that “change” thingy.

  11. Submitted by John Fitzgerald on 08/26/2009 - 09:28 am.

    Mr. Swift, here’s how my fellow Fellow Jeff Van Wychen tallied the numbers to which I wrote the stories: The numbers are in constant 2010 dollars per pupil and include general education, special education, career technical, integration, alternative facilities, deferred maintenance,telecommunications, operating capital technology, and miscellaneous levies. These categories comprise nearly all school operating revenue. Conversion to per pupil amounts is based on adjusted average daily membership (AADM). Revenue, levy, and aid amounts and AADMs are from the MDE spreadsheet “DistRev02-11Feb09Forecast(1).xls” dated March 6, 2009. Conversion to constant FY 2010 dollars is based on implicit
    price deflator for state and local government purchases.

    This provides us with a more accurate view of state aid. The state has dropped aid for schools an inflation-adjusted 13 percent.

  12. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 08/26/2009 - 10:16 am.

    “Conversion to constant FY 2010 dollars is based on implicit price deflator for state and local government purchases.”

    Ah, so our mistake was using the numbers from the Department of Education; the numbers used to report to the state auditor, the legislature and the public.

    We missed that plot twist so completely it was almost like we were reading a wholly different story!

    We should have guessed that fellow Fellow Jeff took those old, busted numbers the DOE compiled using the CPI and gave them new life using the special inflation rate the government uses; it appears in almost all of your feature length productions.

    And why not? It’s so very versatile!

    Thanks for a fascinating, behind the scenes peek into how MN2020 crafts such entertaining reports, John, I’m sure more than a few deep breaths were expended during the decision to divulge your trade craft.

    But we’re still left with a rather large loose end. No matter how you’d like to frame the scene, the fact remains that K-12 education has continued to receive more money every year as a total.

    So if there is more money, how come the kiddies are still getting crammed in like cattle?

  13. Submitted by Geoff Laskowski on 08/26/2009 - 11:21 am.

    Mr. Swift,
    Forgive my lack of clarity, for I was not attempting to equate referendum increases with state aid reductions on a dollar to dollar basis, but rather indicate a relationship between the loss of state aid and a resultant increase in local revenues. If there are stipulations to which local districts are required to adhere in receiving state aid that indicate that it cannot be used for certain expenses then I stand corrected.

    It appears however that the General Revenue numbers include local referendum revenues, so I’m not sure they should be included if we’re talking specifically about decreases in state aid.

    To that end, what I hadn’t noticed in the report before (tiny Excel cells and unfamiliarity with this report, I guess), was range K52:K65, GENED EXCL REFER & EQUITY, which I assume is the General revenue minus referendum and equity for ADM (Average Daily Membership) adjusted for CPI. That shows a decrease from 2003-2009 of -2%. Granted it’s not 13%, but perhaps there’s some other budgetary spreadsheet I have not yet located.

    Regarding some other items in your posts, I did not intend to equate my understanding of, or experience with Minnesota education system with Mr. Fitzgerald’s. Sifting through data is not generally how I spend most of my time (and I’ve spent too much of my workday time on it already). Second, I will concede to Karen that I allowed myself to get drawn off the immediate topic of the original post. However, it would be valuable to discover how the 13% was reached and until that time, we’d just be continuing to volley back and forth using the data we deem relevant, rather than what was actually used in MN2020’s report. Thirdly, hopefully our engaged intelligent debate has allowed you to gain some insight into the workings of a (somewhat)liberal mind.

    Cheers.

  14. Submitted by Geoff Laskowski on 08/26/2009 - 11:52 am.

    Mr. Fitzgerald,
    Thank you for your response regarding MN2020’s report. I appear to have spent too much time working on my response to Mr. Swift’s posts.

    Ms. Sandness, please forgive my reference to you in the familiar rather than the formal.

    Regards.

  15. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 08/26/2009 - 02:17 pm.

    Geoffrey, I’ll concede a 2% reduction in state aid to move along to the larger point.

    The state’s contribution notwithstanding, I think we can both agree that considering all sources, revenue for K-12 education has continued to rise, and has never fallen.

    Further, it is accepted as fact by all concerned parties, even the teachers union and their supporters, that public school enrollment is shrinking.

    More money; fewer kids.

    So why are classrooms getting more crowded? I’ve asked the question three times, but have yet to see anyone even take a stab at answering it.

    I think you know what the answer is just as I do.

    I am willing to concede points to you because your argument, like mine, is based upon reliable, traceable data. Facts are facts.

    However, I’ll not concede anything to MN2020, or their financial backers (EdMN), because they rely on smoke and mirrors to make an argument the facts will not support. And where smoke and mirrors won’t do the trick, they make it up as they go.

    Case in point: The “implicit price deflator for state and local government purchases” MN2020 so loves to use is based upon the assumption that the goods and services government buys are so different from those consumers buy, they need their own special inflation index.

    What is so different? Schools aren’t the Pentagon; they’re not buying radar absorbant materials; they’re not buying heat seeking missiles; they’re not buying spy satellites.

    Is the corn schools buy for the cafeteria somehow different than the corn you and I buy? Is the Chevy truck that hauls the maintenance crew to work equipped with features found on no other vehicle?

    Is there special paper being used in the principal’s printer? Invisible ink, maybe?

    And if there were actually such differences, and those differences had the effect of increasing the cost at no apparent benefit, why the heck are they being purchased? Finally, if the S&L IPD is a superior accounting method, why is it not being used by the Department of Education themselves?

    The fact of the matter is that government agencies and leftist propagandists like to misuse an enhanced inflation index because it provides cover for the fact that it simply costs more to get a piece of paper from point A to point B when it is traveling through government offices.

    Applied to anything other than the sorts of one of a kind items the Pentagon buys, the S&L IPD is the cost of government inefficiency and waste. The public school district would be foolish to highlight that fact, and they’re smart enough to know it.

  16. Submitted by Geoff Laskowski on 08/26/2009 - 03:13 pm.

    Mr. Swift,
    A Google search for “implicit price deflator for state and local government purchases” produced a link to MN2020 Fellow Jeff Van Wychen’s explanation of the use of the deflator (http://www.mn2020.org/index.asp?Type=B_BASIC&SEC={39C5A438-2F5B-4AF1-850B-A78FF02687CF}&DE), which I found to be very informative. A scan of the other links returned in the search indicates that it is not a measure used exclusively in Minnesota. The most noteworthy fact being that it appears to be the standard used by all parties with an interest in the state budget, regardless of ideology.

    “There are few issues upon which the Pawlenty administration, conservative legislators, the Taxpayers’ League president, and Minnesota 2020 agree, but there is at least one: the S&L IPD is the appropriate measure of inflation for state and local government purchases.”

    The data also appears to show that the S&L IPD has not always been higher than the CPI which would indicate that it is not a measure used to artificially inflate the cost of government.

    I cannot answer why the MN Department of Education uses CPI in the spreadsheets to which we’ve been referring, perhaps it is due to the fact that they believe the audience for that spreadsheet is more familiar with CPI.

    Yet I think I can be reasonably certain that it has nothing to do with leftist propaganda. At least I have not received note of such from the Central Committee.

    Regards.

  17. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 08/26/2009 - 05:48 pm.

    I googled it too, and noticed that most of the links were to MN2020.

    Is that where the quote came from?

    The data on the spread sheet is the same data the department presents to the state Auditor. I’d hope that if it were possible to comprehend the government index, he’d be capable.

    In any case, the method of measurement is moot if the point being made is irrelevant. John pinpoints the problem at a 13% decrease in state aid.

    We’ve determined, and agree, I think, that deductions from state aid notwithstanding, there is undeniably still more money and less kids in public schools.

    My question stands: Why are they being crammed into crowded classrooms?

  18. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 08/28/2009 - 10:23 pm.

    From an educational, or college competition, standpoint public magnate schools offer a better experience than the best private schools and there are some mediocre private schools.

    The story on UTF politics isn’t the result of disaffected parents but more likely the cause. The main competition for NYC public schools isn’t private schools but suburban schools which have more consistent quality and opportunity for parent participation.

    Saying that badly managed public schools will be improved by forcing student attendance is like saying that McDonald’s will become healthy if everyone was forced to eat there.

  19. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 08/28/2009 - 10:29 pm.

    The sorting of students by wealth will occur whether education is public or private, unless you prevent concerned parents from moving into communities that have good schools. You will also have to abolish the free market in housing, which capitalizes the price of a good school in the value of properties in that school’s catchment area, thereby pricing out lower income parents. Unfortunately, many of those lower income parents have capable and motivated children who would greatly benefit from being educated with other similarly motivated children. In the US, most of these kids have no choice but to attend a failing or mediocre public school. A better system would provide subsidies to low income parents so they can purchase a seat at a better school for their capable and motivated children.

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