Classroom size increases despite teacher hiring outpacing student growth

David DorseyEducation

Some things just don’t add up.

In Kansas, student enrollment is up a modest 4.8% over the past ten years. Over the same time period, the number of classroom teachers has increased more rapidly, at 5.4%. A reasonable inference from those facts is that classroom sizes would be smaller or at least no larger. However, just the opposite is true. According to the latest data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) the average class size in a Kansas elementary school is 20.4, up from 19.2 a decade earlier, a 6.3% increase. The growth at the high school level is even more alarming. The typical secondary school class size is at 24.6 students, a 10.8% increase from the 22.2 students per classroom ten years prior.

Why this apparent incongruity? The explanation lies in the hiring of non-teachers. Since 2005, non-teacher employment has increased 10.2%.

In a response to Governor Brownback’s 2016 State of the State address, House Minority Leader Tom Burroughs lamented “your children’s class sizes are getting larger.” He is right. But it is not because, as he put it, the “legislature has been underfunding our schools.” The schools have had plenty of money to keep class sizes from increasing. They have just chosen not to do so. Hiring decisions, including who and what positions are local choices, not ones made at the state capitol.

When districts decide to increase funding outside the classroom, that is not putting Kansas students first.

UPDATE: This blog has been updated to reflect a mislabeling of the 10.2% hiring of non-teachers. It was initially identified as non-classroom teachers and is accurate based on KSDE data.

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