Editorial – Class size data supports transparency and accountability

April 6, 2021 Jonathan Teghtmeyer ATA News Editor-in-Chief

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The United Conservative Party’s 2019 election platform pledged that “Education will be strengthened by working with parents, teachers, principals and trustees to protect school choice, improve accountability, and deliver the best possible outcomes for our children.” It also said that their government would update standards for special education in order “to ensure accountability for quality inclusive education.”

Yet the government’s decision, just months after being elected, to scrap the reporting of class size data represented a giant step backwards in the public’s ability to hold the government accountable. It leaves an interesting question about who’s accountability is being highlighted in the election platform.

Parents and teachers in Edmonton Public are fortunate to have a school board that continues to see the value in reporting this data. Last month, the board released comprehensive data related to its class sizes for the 2020/21 school year.

It is important to note that year-to-year comparisons will be affected by the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Parents and students will have made some different choices related to at-home learning or home schooling that would impact enrolments, student placements and teacher deployment. Staffing will also have been impacted somewhat as a result of the infusion of federal funding. For instance, Edmonton Public’s student enrolment this year is down about 1,000 students when they were actually projecting a 2,400 student increase.

With that aside, let’s look at the data from Edmonton Public.

Average class sizes are down in all four grade grouping divisions for 2020/21, but as we know, averages do little to portray a complete picture.

There is good news at the high school level where the number and proportion of classes over 30 students are down considerably. Notably there are only six classes with more than 40 students, down from 71 such classes in 2018/19.

At the junior high level, there is a reduction in classes sized 26 to 35, in favour of more classes under 25 students, but at the same time, there is a sharp increase in the number of classes with more than 35 students. These largest classes previously represented about two per cent of classrooms, but this year they account for more than 350, or five per cent, of junior high classrooms.

The elementary school data is problematic.

In division two, there was a similar doubling of the instances of really large classes, with five per cent of classrooms being over 30 students. And at K–3, the 16 per cent of classes with more than 25 students grew to 24 per cent.

It is clear that Edmonton Public struggled to reduce the number of very large classes in a year of increased funding (thanks Trudeau), decreased enrolment and at a time when the impacts of such large classes presented a health and safety concern in addition to an educational concern. I am really concerned about what this means for next year when provincial funding is set to the same levels, federal funding ends and we are likely to see many of this year’s at-home learners return to physical classrooms.

To be clear, I don’t blame Edmonton Public or its administrators for these challenges. It has been apparent to me for years that school board funding constraints always result in class size growth. To that end, I have consistently found that class size data is a vital barometer of funding adequacy.

That is why it is so problematic that the government removed this important measure of transparency and accountability. More school boards should follow the lead of Edmonton Public in making this data publicly available.

Fortunately, Edmonton Public has made it easy for them to do so. The division has developed scripts and processes that will allow the data to be easily collected and verified using PowerSchool. The report issued says that, “While this was a more involved process to complete the report this year, it is anticipated that in future years the changes will result in significant time savings for schools and student information in preparing the reports.”

In the absence of provincially collected data, let’s pressure school boards to make this important and easily compiled information readily available. ❚

I welcome your comments. Contact me at jonathan.teghtmeyer@ata.ab.ca.

 

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