Parents already concerned about a plan to double the length of middle school classes expanded their protest to a potential countywide increase in class sizes at the school board meeting Thursday.
Arlington Public Schools is proposing a block schedule to lengthen class times for middle school core subjects starting in the 2013-14 school year. A group of parents says this will harm music and arts programs and be tough on pre-teen attention spans.
Several linked their block schedule objections to class size, saying adding a student per class would make the longer class lengths more chaotic.
“You are asking too much of the students and too much of the teachers,” said Claudia Harvey, mother of four Arlington students, during the public comment period before the board’s regular meeting. “For block scheduling to succeed, you need to commit to keeping the classrooms smaller.”
The school board is studying an increase of one student per class to save money and increase capacity. More students per class would lower the number of classrooms needed to meet Arlington’s booming school population. The increase would reduce the need for additional full-time teachers by 39 and teaching assistants by four, saving $3.6 million for fiscal year 2013, according to a recent report by school staff.
Such a move would not necessarily add one student to every classroom across the county; class sizes would still vary depending on distribution of enrollment and demand for electives.
Parents had questions Thursday about class size and block scheduling and whether the two proposals were connected.
“Is block scheduling a back-door way to increase class size?” asked Science Focus Elementary School parent Ellen Fitzpatrick. “Increasing class size is no way to deal with capacity.”
School officials and education experts say longer class times allow for more creative teaching methods, such as science labs, simulations and Socratic seminars. All four Arlington high schools use some form of block scheduling, but parents said they are skeptical about using the method for middle schoolers.
“The little research I’ve seen on middle school is very old; some of it is 10 or more years old, so I would not rely on that at all,” said Sharon Witiw, also a parent at Science Focus, who suggested a block format where each subject held only one longer class per week.
APS hopes block scheduling can help close the economic and ethnic achievement gap, Witiw said, but “one of the most important things for closing the achievement gap is small class sizes in elementary school. It is one of the strongest indicators for closing the achievement gap.”