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The race for City Hall

Jobs and schools promise to be top issues in next year’s city elections. The mayor’s education agenda faces its toughest test in the African-American communities that gave him strong support in 2011.

For the Record: Class sizes, closing schools

Soon after CPS leaders announced plans to close schools, parent advocates sounded the alarm that massive school closings would cause class sizes to swell in the receiving schools.

CPS officials tried to veer away from that discussion, as parents intuitively believe that smaller class sizes are better. Yet it is clear that larger class sizes will be one impact of closing schools that the district considers underutilized. Adding a student or two to classes in receiving schools frees up money, since fewer teachers will be needed and teacher salaries are the district’s biggest expense.

Though the capital cost savings for school closings are unclear and CPS has lowered its initial savings estimates on that front, officials have also estimated that increasing class sizes by just one student would save as much as $26 million per year.  

Wendy Katten, the board president of Raise Your Hand, says that allowing class sizes to go up is the opposite of what most people want. Katten’s organization was started after former CEO Ron Huberman threated to raise class sizes to 35 students to close a budget deficit.

“Parents and teachers, people who are actually in the schools, know class size matters.[Class sizes going up] is certainly not what the stakeholders want,” Katten says.

Research suggests that class size does not have a major impact on achievement unless classes are 15 students or smaller. But the issue resonates with many teachers and parents, who note that classes in some schools are routinely 30 to 40 students, above the district’s own guidelines. They point out that suburban and elite private schools have much lower class sizes, especially in the lower grades.

After CPS leaders took pains to counter Raise Your Hand’s criticism, Catalyst Chicago asked CPS for class size data in December 2012 and then submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for the data in February. The information was provided in late April and shows that:

  • Schools that are underutilized according to the district’s formula have, on average, two fewer students than in schools deemed to be at capacity. Only 4 percent of classrooms in closing schools are above recommended class sizes and 12 percent of classrooms in underutilized schools.

  • About 850-more than 25 percent-of primary classrooms have more than 28 students, the amount recommended under the district’s contract with the teachers union.  Class size has the most impact on young students, according to research.

  • Another 713 3rd thru 8th-grade classes have more than 31 students.

  • CPS officials have emphasized that closing schools will help get rid of split-grade classrooms, which are viewed as bad because teachers must teach to a wider range of ability levels. Schools slated for closure do have significantly more split-grade classes than other schools—but even in these schools, split grades are only 14 percent of the total.

Katten notes that in a lot of schools that are slated to close, the principal is using discretionary funds to keep class size low. Yet when schools are combined, it will be more difficult for principals to find the space to spread classes out, she says.

Making choices

The issue of class size is constantly mentioned at rallies and marches against the planned closings. Margaret Cooley, at a march with her grandson from Overton to Mollison on Tuesday, says CPS “just wants to put them all in there and bunch them up.”

CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll says that principals often choose to add a student or two over the limit to classes, and that board policy only provides guidelines.

Carroll says it is “simply not true” that closing schools will lead to a larger number of over-sized classes.

“Principals will make decisions around class size that they believe are in the best interest of their students,” Carroll says. “All welcoming schools, which are also underutilized, will be within their appropriate utilization range.”

Kristine Mayle from the CTU says principals have a “false” choice. Sometimes they decide to increase class size by one or two students so they can hire a full-time art or music teacher.

“They are supposed to do what is best for students and sometimes that means hiring an extra security guard because they are in an unsafe neighborhood,” Mayle says.

The union has a committee to which teachers in overcrowded classrooms can complain, but Mayle says it has limited staff to investigate and limited access to resources to provide the teacher with relief.

“We are not talking about a kindergarten teacher with 29 students, but rather the one with 40 students,” she says.

At the same time CPS is closing a record number of schools, it also is implementing per-pupil budgeting in which schools get a set amount of money per student, rather than budgets allocated based on the number of teachers needed in a school. That also could have an impact on class size, Mayle says.

“Principals will have an incentive to pack students in,” she says.

Contributing: Linda Lutton (Chicago Public Radio-WBEZ)

Attached is an Excel spreadsheet with class size data, provided by CPS. It is from the 20th day of school. It includes information about which schools are slated to close and which ones slated to receive them.

class_sizes.xls1.17 MB


Valerie F. Leonard wrote 1 year 35 weeks ago

An Education Week article on

An Education Week article on student mobility has indicated that the potential impact of mobility on students' education is significant. Students who move often between schools may experience a range of problems such as: lower achievement levels due to discontinuity of curriculum between schools, behavioral problems, difficulty developing peer relationships, and a greater risk for dropping out.

Although little research has been conducted on the impact of student mobility on non-mobile students, schools with significant incidences of student mobility also report an impact on their non-mobile students, teachers, and overall school climate. For example, a policy brief published in 1999 by Policy Analysis for California Education, found that California schools with high mobility rates (30 percent or higher), reported that test scores for non-mobile students were considerably lower than those of students in schools with lower mobility rates. The findings support claims that continual student turnover is disruptive and keeps non-mobile students from moving ahead as teachers spend extra time helping newer students catch up. Some schools have attempted to alleviate this by keeping highly mobile students (i.e. children of migrant workers) segregated from other classes, so that the continual arrival and departure of mobile students does not disrupt the education of other non-mobile students (Hartman, 2002).(Education Week 2004)

Project STAR tested a scientifically-controlled experiment undertaken in rural, urban, suburban and inner-city settings found that 1) small classes are academically beneficial, particularly when the class size is reduced below 20 pupils; 2) Small classes are likely to be most beneficial in the early primary grades; and 3) Students from economically disadvantaged homes were likely to reap the twice the benefits from reducing class sizes than other students. These results were sustained year by year, regardless of the subject matter or locale, even after students were returned to regular sized classes.

Valerie F. Leonard wrote 1 year 35 weeks ago

CPS budgets based on class

CPS budgets based on class sizes of 28, but then sets the number 30 as a so-called optimal number for elementary school class sizes. Shame on them, particularly when federal funds may be used to create smaller class sizes. Double-shame on them when they say to CPS "do as I say and not as I do." The Mayor's children attend a private school that has 24 students per class, 1 teacher and 2 assistants in an environment where children don't have nearly the hardships and distractions that many inner-city children living in poverty have.

Celeste Morawski wrote 1 year 35 weeks ago

Here here.

Here here.

Kelly wrote 1 year 35 weeks ago

Class Size

The closures will cram more students into classrooms. Many schools already have 31-33 students in classrooms, including lower grades. With the influx of students from a closed school, the sizes will go up.

If the closures and already overcrowded schools don't affect class size, then all-day kindergarten planned for next year will! At one CPS school, administrators have already told kindergarten teachers they will have 50 students in each class next year. That's right --50. No typo! Can you even conceive of that many kindergarten students in one classroom! Parents would be out of their minds to put their children in classes this size. Also, there are fire dept. codes on how many people in specific size rooms. I'm sure 50 in a class is a fire code violation.

Of course, did the mayor think about any of the consequences of all-day kindergarten, like additional classrooms, classroom size, kindergartener's attention spans, or behavior management? NO. That's his problem, he comes up with the plans without actually thinking about them seriously. Illinois law, by the way, only requires at least one all day kindergarten in a school district. It should not be instituted, if the facilities are not available at a school. Rahm's school model must come from 1900, not 2013.

Northside wrote 1 year 35 weeks ago

class size doesnt matter? hahaha

Some people say class size matter but I always like to compare the BASICS

20 students 34 students (normal at cps)

student 160 272
hours per

Grading a 102min 340min
simple quiz 4,080min per year 13,600min
5 min 2 per week

Check 40mi per day or 68min per day or
2 homeworks 1600 per year 2,720 per year

Conference 200min or 340min or
10min per 17 school days 28 school days
week per year per year

Parents 21 hours 33 hours
1 hour per
year each

Lava lamp wrote 1 year 35 weeks ago

what is being compared

Hey Northside,
What school are you comparing these numbers to? CPS obviously, but what other school or district?

Northside wrote 1 year 35 weeks ago


My spacing didn't work on catalyst when I sent it...just saying that 20 kids vs 35 kids is a HUGE difference! Just in paperwork and extra hours and days of work needed. Just making a point 20 is a little low anywhere and 35 is a little high for even Chicago...but Chicago teachers , in my experience, have had about an extra 7 kids in my room. 7 more kids in a room makes a huge someways no different if you had 2 kids then suddenly had 7 more!!! it is a huge huge difference .....if you want to make a difference

Athena wrote 1 year 35 weeks ago

Crowded classrooms at receiving schools

Note that the quality of an elementary education will determine the success rate of high school graduates. If you warehouse young kids in over- crowded classrooms, they will enter high school unprepared and will increase the dropout rate. It is time to get down to business and invest in the kids.

Anonymous wrote 1 year 35 weeks ago

Magnet school K with 34 students! Already!

Becky Carroll and CPS don't seem to know what's going on in their own schools.

Our magnet school has 34 kids in lower grades. If we went to our neighborhood school it would be about 40.

Why does CPS act like we are idiots, like whatever they say we will believe?

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emulator 3ds wrote 10 weeks 23 hours ago


He can already count on the support of three members of the PQ caucus. Bernard Drainville also benefits from the support of three of his fellow MPs.

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