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To Save Money, Some Schools In Region Plan Bigger Classes

Under heavy pressure to contain spending, some Washington area school systems are planning to increase class size in the coming year to save money on teachers.

Fairfax County, with the region's largest school system, expects to save $11 million by inching up staffing formulas half a student per classroom teacher. Loudoun County's School Board has approved giving each teacher one additional student, for a savings of $7.3 million. Montgomery and Prince George's county schools are seeking to combine smaller classes or cut support staff and teaching specialists.

Douglas D. Ready, an assistant professor at Columbia University Teachers College, said reducing the number of students in a class is not a panacea. Schools also need enough qualified teachers, the right training, and political and financial support, he said. Although most researchers say that teacher quality is more important than class size to student achievement, Ready said, no one knows a surefire way to evaluate good teachers or to draw them into the classroom.

School officials said smaller schools, with smaller staffs and therefore less flexibility, are likely to be hit harder. At Little Run Elementary, with fewer than 400 students, Janice Peterson and other parents say they worry that fewer teachers could mean that some classes have combined grade levels.

A Fairfax proposal to reduce the number of instructional assistants, at a savings of almost $2 million, also would limit the amount of help available for larger classes.

Peterson recently visited a private school, where she was impressed to see classes of 14 students. Teachers in small classes "have time to give individual attention to students," she said. In much larger classes, "I don't think it's physically possible."

The article “To Save Money, Some Schools In Region Plan Bigger Classes“ was published on May 7th in the “Washington Post” previous page