Another casualty of the economy: larger classroom sizes

Parents and politicians tend to agree a lot on this one: the smaller the classroom, the better. For good reason, of course. Studies have shown that children, especially if they're already ambitious and driven to learn, get far more out of a class the fewer other children in it. Which is why it's troubling that Georgia is considering adding two kids per classroom for the 2009-2010 school year.

But the move, while not desirable, is understandable: It will save the state some $200 million, according to state schools superintendent Kathy Cox.

If it happens, the largest a kindergarten class would be is 20 students. Grades 1-3 would be 23 students. Grades 4-8, however, would be 30. And, of course, parents worry that this is just the beginning. That in several years, officials will be promising that 35 kids are the limit for a classroom.

Of course, in Wahsoe county, Nevada, the middle school is already 35 students per classroom, and the district is considering increasing the size of its classrooms to save money. The thinking is that you get more bang for your educational buck with smaller class sizes in elementary school. But anyone who knows middle schoolers must question the wisdom of larger class sizes for them.

Those schools seem to be the exception. Most schools still embrace the idea that smaller is better, when it comes to class size, especially at the grade school level. Still, public schools everywhere are being forced to look at painful budget cuts. In Orlando, Florida, for instance, the school board is looking at everything from closing schools to cutting their music, theater and art programs.

It makes me think that I should be grateful that my daughter's first grade class still only has around 20 kids in it, and that maybe I should start participating in the (latest) money-raising projects at my daughter's school. Um, anyone want to buy a pizza card that'll help you save money at LaRosa's Pizzeria? Or if you don't live in the Greater Cincinnati area, I have another one -- if you order a 32-ounce pouch of roasted vegetable soup from me for $8.99, you could win a cruise. And I have some lovely tilapia fillets for just $12.39...

It's just the beginning, I fear. If anyone thinks that public education isn't going to be hammered by the nation's economic situation, I also have a nice bridge in Brooklyn I can sell you. Cheap.

Geoff Williams is a freelance journalist and the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America (Rodale).
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