Investing to Reduce Class Size and Close the Achievement Gap
By Michael A. Durso and Larry A. Bowers
The Montgomery County Council’s tentative approval of the Montgomery County Public Schools operating budget for next year provides $37.9 million of additional funding that will allow us to reduce class sizes in many classrooms across the district and accelerate our efforts to close the achievement gap. The Board of Education is grateful that the Council has provided these additional resources that will allow us to accomplish this important work. We also recognize that with these resources comes responsibility—responsibility to ensure that student achievement increases and every dollar is used wisely.
In addition to the class size improvements that are highlighted below, these additional resources will allow us to provide targeted support based on the needs of our students to address achievement gaps. Additional teacher and paraeducator positions will be allocated to provide support and interventions where it is needed most—in mathematics and literacy. We also will allocate additional elementary counselors, parent community coordinators, psychologists, and pupil personnel workers to assist our students and their families with the support and opportunities they need to help them be successful. Many of our students need support beyond the classroom to succeed, and our goal is to ensure that the necessary services and community supports are in place to help every student thrive.
The additional classroom teachers included in the budget will enable us to change the class size guidelines that are used to allocate staff to schools. The chart below shows how the guidelines will change at the elementary level.
Changing the guidelines does not mean that every elementary class will be smaller by one or two students next year. Classes that are already at or below the new guidelines will not see the number of students in the classroom change. However, schools that have several classes that exceed the new guidelines will receive additional teachers to create smaller classes.
Consider the impact of changing the kindergarten class size guidelines by one student, from 26 students to 25:
If a school has four kindergarten classes of 26 students, the school will receive another teacher and there will be 5 classes of 20 or 21 students. However, if a school has four classes of 23 students each, class size won’t change under the new guidelines.
Although the class size guidelines in our Focus schools—the schools with the highest levels of poverty—are reduced more at some grade levels than in non-Focus schools, the guidelines will be changed for these schools as well. The Board of Education is committed to providing the additional resources approved by the County Council to schools throughout the county while continuing to invest more resources in schools with greater student needs.
At the secondary school level, the guideline for English classes will remain at 29 students per class, but the class size guidelines for mathematics, science, social studies, reading, and foreign language will be reduced to 32 students, down from 33. It is important to remember that these are the class size guidelines, and that the average size of English classes in middle schools this year is 25.1 and high schools is 25.6; the average class size of mathematics classes is 25.0 in middle schools and 26.2 in high schools; and the average class size in other core content areas is 26.9 in middle schools and 27.3 in high schools. Class sizes in secondary schools vary because principals use their teacher positions to offer a wide variety of course offerings while keeping the size of core content classes manageable.
The allocation of additional classroom teachers to secondary schools will allow us to minimize the number of classes above the class size guidelines and reduce the average class sizes in all of our schools. Principals will still offer classes that exceed these guidelines to create even smaller classes in a mathematics class like Algebra. Schools make these decisions each year based on the system priorities to address the achievement gap and to prepare students to be college and career ready. The additional positions that are being allocated for next year will allow secondary schools to reduce class sizes overall, as well as reduce the number of oversized classes in the core content areas.
The Board of Education is committed to continuing to work with our community to ensure that the resources entrusted to us are used wisely and prepare our students for a bright future.