Public teachers around the state, who should be breathing a sigh of relief when Obama signed a bill giving police and teachers $26 billion in funding to reduce job cuts, are still worried about the Florida mandate to reduce class sizes.
On Aug. 3 a Florida law passed for class sizes be reduced based on grade levels. At the Alachua County School Board meeting on Aug. 3 the debate was whether or not the county should just pay the penalty or find alternatives.
The ACSB posted a notice to local families and students and stated the options for complying with the law.
The ideas listed were combining classes (by age or course), reorganizing/reassigning teachers, or reduction in certain courses, most likely electives, according to Lisa Trout, a math teacher at Paxon School for Advanced Studies in Jacksonville, Fla.
Trout taught a mixed class for Calculus, with both honors and International Baccalaureate students. The content overlapped so the classes were combined totaling 20 students. While this seemed like a good idea, it was hard to constantly have to address the two different groups with assignments and required content.
Amy Scott, IB Theory of Knowledge teacher at Coral Reef Senior High in Miami agrees. She previously taught and Advanced Placement/IB class and found balancing the two hard. Because the assignments and requirements are different, it essentially drags down the pace of the class and creates animosity between the two groups, she said.
Alana Knupp, a former biology teacher at Paxon, and Trout’s sister, thinks combining the classes would be one of the better ideas. It teaches tolerance to the advanced students, and encourages the slower ones to work harder.
“In the real world, no one is going to wait for you, so the slower students have to realize that,” she said.
Unfortunately the education system has never been funded properly, Knupp said. If they would raise teachers salaries and not spend as much on training, they would attract more options and could be more selective about teachers.
“Tallahassee is spending less $ on education than ever–especially in Miami-Dade County–and so all the pressure is now on the individual school districts, which are totally cash strapped, rather than the state,” said Martha Holmes, an English teacher at Coral Reef. “I’m going to be partisan here, but in my 23 years of teaching here, I’ve never seen so many attempts to undermine public education..The Republican-controlled legislature is hoping this mandate will backfire because the districts have so little money, and then they can say the public doesn’t care about class size, and they can continue to underfund education.”
Her largest class size ever was 48 students and Scott’s largest class was 42 students. In today’s digital age, online classes and schools are becoming more popular, according to the teachers.
Two such sites are FLVS.net, which is an Orlando-based virtual school, and K12.com. Having taken online classes herself at various colleges, Knupp said there are too many ways to cheat.
David Menasche, another English teacher at Coral Reef said, “They are absolutely the future of education and I hate them. It won’t take the school boards much longer to figure out it’s cheaper to give each kid a laptop computer and leave them at home than it is to bring the child in and educate him or her. The classes are dull, inactive, impersonal, and easily cheated on or bypassed. Would you choose an online educated surgeon? Not me.”
It is a global reality problem now, because we are all connected, Knupp said. Change needs to take place at the national and global level. Things are getting worse.
Jeff Kwitowski, vice president of public relations at K12,Inc., said the opposite. The point of virtual academies like K12.com is to individualize the lesson plan to meet the needs of students.
“These students are also missing out on the social interactions that students in traditional classes receive which greatly enhances their social development, much in the same way home schooled students miss out,” said David English, activities director at Atlantic Coast High School in Jacksonville, and a teacher of Environmental science on FLVS.
The debate over their social development has researched as seen on the K12.com Web site that states they do not lack social skills. (http://www.k12.com/educators/research__results/reports__white_papers/socialization-study/)
Trout sees the pull of technology tracking her days left in a classroom.
“It wont be long before I become obsolete and am teaching from behind a computer,”she said.