Class sizes are rising in Alberta and the government does not have adequate plans and processes to reduce them, according to the most recent report from the auditor general. The auditor looked into how the Class Size Initiative and associated $300 million per year in funding is managed and found that the vast majority of school boards are not meeting the accepted targets at the K–3 grade level and that average class sizes are actually larger than they were in 2004 when the initiative began.
ATA president Greg Jeffery welcomed the report, noting that it highlights a number of issues that the Association has been pointing out for years.
"Oversight is at the very core of good government."
— Merwin Saher, auditor general
“Class sizes are growing and are as large as they’ve been in probably 15 years, and more and more students with special learning needs are being included without adequate support,” Jeffery said. “Too many students are falling through the cracks.”
“Too many students are falling through the cracks.”
— Greg Jeffery, ATA president
The report also found that the department of education does not have an action plan to achieve smaller class sizes and that reporting on class sizes and oversight into how the funds were used has been inadequate.
“Oversight is at the very core of good government,” said auditor general Merwin Saher. “It is the means by which those who serve, either through being elected or as members of the public service, can earn the public’s confidence that they are managing public resources wisely. Good oversight will invariably produce better systems to achieve desired results.”
Over time, it appears that the department has converted Class Size Initiative funding to additional base instructional funding, the report found. Through the initiative, school jurisdictions were first provided with targeted funding to address places where class sizes were largest.
The goal was to meet the Alberta Commission on Learning guidelines within three years. School jurisdictions were initially restricted to using the funds to hire and retain teachers in order to reduce class size averages.
By 2007, school jurisdictions said that the initiative’s reporting requirements were too burdensome and the reporting requirements were ultimately relaxed. By 2010, funding was reallocated to a simple per pupil funding allocation, which was eventually just allocated at the K–3 level. Subsequently, class size averages increased and fewer boards began to meet the targets.
“Just five of the 61 school boards in the province met the target of 17 students in K–3 classes last year,” said Jeffery. “And yet teachers are quite aware that far too many classes are well exceeding that number.”
Saher’s report also highlights the inherent limitations of using average class size as a measure, stating that the use of averages obscures the actual number of classes that exceed accepted class size guidelines.
Jeffery is calling on the government to introduce a more comprehensive system of reporting on the actual class sizes that exist in Alberta’s schools. He would like to see the government publish the full data set on its open portal. He agrees with the auditor general that an action plan needs to be put in place to reduce class sizes and that there should be more oversight on how school boards spend the class size funding.
He also says that Budget 2018 should include an immediate funding increase to ensure that 2,000 additional teachers can be hired next year to begin closing the gap.
Education Minister David Eggen thanked the auditor general for his “hard work” on the report.
“Our government understands that small classes mean more individual attention for students and better learning outcomes,” Eggen said. “That’s why even in tough times, when others were calling for deep cuts, we made investing in Alberta’s teachers, schools and classrooms a top priority.”
He said that the government opened 53 new or modernized schools this past September with 90 more on the way and that 1,000 new teachers have been hired in order to prevent class sizes from ballooning.
“Moving forward, we are committed to working with local school boards to ensure greater accountability and reporting on results achieved by the Class Size Initiative funding,” Eggen said. ❚
Develop an action plan and improve monitoring and reporting processes.
If the department of education continues the Class Size Initiative, the department should develop an action plan and improve processes to regularly monitor and report on the initiative.
— Report of the Auditor General of Alberta,