What happened to the Class Size Initiative? 

Gordon ThomasGordon Thomas

Question: I’ve got 28 students in my Grade 2 class. What happened to the Class Size Initiative? 

Answer: Full implementation of the Class Size Initiative continues to be a priority for the Association, and, we are told, for the government. Unfortunately, only a few school jurisdictions have fully complied with the class size limits established under the initiative.

The initiative emerged from the recommendations of Alberta’s Commission on Learning (2003), which, in turn, were a response to the widespread concerns expressed by teachers and parents about the province’s class sizes. At the time, Alberta’s class sizes were the largest in the county. The Commission recommended that in each school jurisdiction the maximum average class size should be restricted to17 students in Grades 1–3; 23 students in Grades 4–6; 25 in Grades 7–9; and 27 in Grades 10–12.

It is important to remember that the division targets established under the program relate to average class sizes across the jurisdiction, not to individual classes. It is possible, therefore, that a large class in one school might be offset by a smaller class elsewhere in the jurisdiction.

Alberta Education provides earmarked funding to enable school boards to meet class size requirements. The 2008 provincial budget increased annual funding for the Class Size Initiative by nine per cent, or $17.5 million, bringing the total to be spent this year to $212 million. The province reports that approximately $729 million has been committed to date to hire more than 2,700 additional teachers to reduce class sizes.

As part of the five-year agreement between the ATA and the government, Premier Stelmach undertook to ensure that the Class Size Initiative was maintained and adequately funded. It is the province’s responsibility to ensure that school boards adhere to the specified average class size requirements.

Class size data for each of Alberta’s school jurisdictions is available on the Alberta Education website (www.education.alberta.ca). Last year, only 11 of the province’s 62 school authorities met the required average maximum of 17 students in Grades 1–3, the grades where smaller classes are most likely to have the greatest positive effect on student learning. The picture for the higher grades is better, with all but a handful of authorities in compliance in divisions 2, 3 and 4.

Earlier this month, I expressed to senior government officials the Association’s dissatisfaction with the efforts being made by school boards to meet their class size obligations. These officials indicated that they shared the Association’s concerns, and I anticipate efforts to improve board compliance.

Questions for consideration in this column are welcome. Please address them to Gordon Thomas at Barnett House (gordon.thomas@ata.ab.ca).