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Budget Cuts May Increase Class Size

Class size has been a hot topic at recent budget meetings. Superintendent Elliott Landon has said that cuts to the $96.7 million Board of Education budget may result in higher class size.  At the recent Education Committee of the Representative Town Meeting, members expressed concern about this possibility. And certainly, Wesport is not alone in suggesting that increasing class size is a way to deal with budget shortfalls. Districts across the country are proposing the same thing.

Anne Dichele, professor of Elementary Education at Quinnipiac College in Hamden, says that the issue of class size is more nuanced than a straight forward one to one correlation equating class size to student achievement.  “In general, the research is not clear that class size has a direct impact on student achievement,” says Dichele.  “It is somewhat counterintuitive. But the truth of the matter is that it is not the most crucial variable in student success.”

Dichele says that almost all research points to the classroom teacher as the most important variable in student learning.

The one area where research has shown that class size is important is the primary grades, kindergarten through second grade, says Dichele. “In those grades, the children form one on one bonds with their teachers and are getting acclimated to a school environment.”

“But, after second grade, children are able to work more independently,” says Dichele. “So if districts are considering increasing class size, the worst place is in those primary grades.” Dichele also adds that research shows that reduction in class size in elementary grades tends to benefit poor and minority children the most.

Early this month, the Board of Finance voted to reduce the education budget request by $500,000 but the BOE is seeking full restoration in order for the school system to maintain its current level of programs. The RTM Education Committee voted at its meeting to recommend the restoration of an additional $250,000 to the BOE budget.  A final plea for full restoration of the BOE budget will be made at RTM meetings on May 3 and 4 where the 2010-11 budget will be finalized.

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