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Education expert warns against big classes

March 25, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
One of the big worries of the California budget crisis is schools being forced to increase class sizes. The Los Angeles Unified School District is already making plans for that. High schools will be the hardest hit.Student classrooms may be a bit more crowded the next school year. Facing severe budget shortfalls, school districts across southern California are forced to cut their teaching staff and increase the number of students in each class.

"You know, there are some kids that need a lot of attention from their teachers, or you know, extra help, and they're going to be the ones that get left back," said parent Sophie Baxter.

LAUSD board members took up the issue Tuesday, saying class size is expected to increase at all levels. In kindergarten through 3rd grade, classes will grow from 20 to 24 students; grades 4 and 5 would grow by two students to 31; and 11th- and 12th-grade classes would jump to 43 students.

"I think it's not a good thing at all," said Professor Lawrence Picus, USC Rossier School of Education. "The ability of teachers to really help children learn and master the material hinges on their ability to individually spend time with each child, to really understand each child's need, and focus instruction on their specific needs during parts of the day. And more children in the classroom, the harder that's going to be."

Prof. Picus says the move could undo the gains the state has seen in test scores over the last several years.

"I doubt you'll see immediate deterioration in test scores in the fall or in the spring of this year but I think very quickly that the ability of teachers to provide that education and to learn to show that knowledge on their tests will decline," said Prof. Picus.

If class sizes are increased, Picus says it will be up to parents to fill in the gap.

"I think it's essential that all parents engage in the education of their children, and now more than ever, because of the reduced funding and potentially larger class sizes," said Prof. Picus.

The LAUSD board is scheduled to vote on the proposed class size increases sometime next week.


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