Protesters outside LAUSD headquarters on May 13, 2013. (Credit: UTLA)
As contract negotiations plod along between LA Unified and the teachers union, UTLA, the issue of class size reduction has taken on a new urgency for Superintendent Ramon Cortines, who plans to shrink the number of students in middle school and high school classrooms by the end of the year.
“I’m not going to tolerate this second semester,” Cortines told LA School Report, before launching into an anecdote about not being able to get through the door of two separate classrooms at Jefferson High School “because they were so crowded.”
“That’s just unacceptable,” he said in frustration.
Teachers have been calling on district leadership to reduce class sizes for years, even as billions of dollars were slashed from the budget and the number of desks per classroom sometimes doubled. It’s been one of UTLA’s core objectives in striking a new deal with the district, a pivotal component of the “Schools LA Students Deserve” platform that President Alex Caputo-Pearl ran on in the recent election.
Data gathered by the district last month shows there are currently more than 1,500 middle school and high school classes enrolling 40 or more students throughout the district. More than 300 enroll 50 or more students. Those figures exclude homeroom, physical education, choir, band and any unfilled sections, all of which tend to be larger in class size.
While 40 sounds like a large number of students for one class, it’s actually within the prescribed ratio of LA Unified classes for non-academic periods in grades 6-through-12 and for academic periods in grades 11 and 12. For academic periods in other grades, the ratios are smaller: 24 to 1 for K-through-3; 30.5 to 1 for grades 4, 5 and some 6; and 34 to 1 for the remaining grade 6-through-10.
Although the data reflecting current ratios comes directly from the district, Lydia Ramos, communications director, explains that “these are very raw numbers” and may contain errors caused by the new student data management system, MiSiS, as well as by unfinished “balancing,” the process of determining how many students are assigned to each teacher.
Still, even ruling out classes that are obviously MiSiS created mistakes — San Pedro Senior High, for instance, appears to enroll 566 students in something called “College Class” — the most notable findings in an analysis of the data by LA School Report include:
- About 1,100 high school classes enroll 40 or more students, in line with prescribed ratios; more than 300 enroll 50 or more students per class.
- More than 120 middle school classes enroll more than 35 students, the current target maximum for students in grades 6 to 8.
- 14 classes show 90 or more students enrolled, most of them in “Advance Conditioning,” which are phys ed or athletics related.
- Approximately 60 algebra classes — including algebra 1A through algebra 2 — enroll more than 40 students, 30 algebra classes have 46 to 49 students, and six have between 51 and 65. Foshay Learning Center has one class of 71 students.
- About 87 Advanced Placement courses enroll 40 or more students. Grover Cleveland Charter High School has the biggest class: AP US History with 67 students
UTLA President Caputo-Pearl has called the numbers “shocking,” and told LA School Report, “This is an issue of improving student learning conditions and educator working conditions.”