Dec. 4 Mail: Class Size and Jacksonville Symphony
‘Glaring Mistakes’ in Class Size Backpage Editorial
As a Duval County school counselor in a Title I high school, I was immediately drawn to the Nov. 20 Backpage Editorial, “The Real Cost of Class-Size Compliance.” However, after giving the article a thorough read, there were so many glaring mistakes and inaccurate facts that the author might have done more harm than good in presenting the real issues with class-size compliance.
Teachers did not lose a planning period; they gained one. Per the current Duval Teachers United Collective Bargaining Agreement, teachers now receive a once-a-day planning period, an increase from last year’s every-other-day planning period for high schools on block scheduling, meaning students in most DCPS high schools gained an extra class while teachers did not. Some DCPS principals were also given funding to “buy out” teacher planning periods in core courses where overcrowding was a major issue, meaning teachers were asked, not forced, to teach during their planning period and were compensated with their current hourly rate. So, by choice, and a check for upwards of $7,000, teachers might have lost a planning period, but it was not taken from them by class-size compliance legislation.
Core academic courses, or those academic courses that are required for graduation, are subject to the class-size standards and sometimes to the detriment, as the writer points out, of other academic courses or electives. While there might be some students with more than one physical education course, this is hardly the norm and absolutely an exception to the rule. In some cases, students may have a H.O.P.E. (Health Opportunities through Physical Education) course and a physical education course, which may seem as though they have more than one PE course, but H.O.P.E. is a graduation requirement and focuses on health and wellness, while the PE course focuses on a specific physical sport or recreation.
The writers also explain “Taking three electives in one year is a roadblock to graduation requirements.” This is absolutely untrue. Students who started in the DCPS school system in the ninth grade and are passing their courses as well as earning passing scores on their state and district level exams (FCAT, End of Course Exams, etc.) will graduate with more credits than needed to earn a standard high school diploma; students in most DCPS high schools can earn up to eight credits in a year — the total needed for a standard high school diploma is 24 credits. Also, some electives can now lead to industry certification in business, technology, culinary or other areas of expertise, meaning elective courses do not dampen the student’s ability to graduate on time with the credits they need but also provide them with more than a high school diploma.
I agree with the writers that there needs to be more emphasis placed on offering courses and a curriculum with more academically rigorous and a diversity of electives. Class-size legislation pulls teachers out of those academic and vocational electives and puts them into a core content area, in order to balance classes. This is not the only reason for lack of diverse electives in a traditional DCPS high school, but it surely does factor into the argument.
Moreover, honors students are not irreversibly damaged by having more students in their classes. As the writers point out, most high-achieving students take weighted honors classes, which provide them with more opportunities to go to their first-choice, top-tier state university schools. Ask any University of Florida or Florida State University freshman about his or her general education classes, and you’re bound to hear the words “lecture hall”; that is, a 200- to 300-person class sometimes taught via taped telecasts where these once high school honors students are required to obtain and retain general education knowledge in subjects ranging from English to sociology.
Honors, AP, IB and AICE graduation courses that are graduation requirements are still subjected to class-size legislation, but their electives are not. The author makes the case that having 40 students in an elective Advanced Placement course cannot possibly meet the demands of DCPS's mission of providing educational excellence and, furthermore, teachers cannot meet the demands of the students’ individual needs and still meet Common Core standards. This statement has much more to do with professional development training for teachers who cannot creatively manage classroom lessons for 40 students and less to do with class-size legislation.
An honest dialogue about class-size legislation needs to take place among community members, parents, students, stakeholders, educators, administrators and legislators. But presenting false information and small-scale scenarios specific to a few students in one school in order to raise concerns about class-size compliance district-wide distract from the larger arguments about the best ways to educate our students.
Raves for Conductor Robert Moody
In my nine years of attending selected concert shows presented by the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra at Jacoby Hall, Nov. 23’s performance was the best that I ever experienced.
Robert Moody conducted the orchestra with such precision, with such timing, and with such uniformity that the audience was totally spellbound listening to Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major, op 55, Beethoven’s “Eroica.”
From the surveys that I saw during the intermission, Moody was praised to the “high heavens” for his meticulous performance of the orchestra and the guest chorale singers. My personal rating is 5 stars; I select Moody to be the successor to Fabio Mechetti. Moody brings a vast array of talents to his conducting, which I believe greatly raised the level of the Jacksonville orchestra to the top tier that evening. o
Domenick A. Bottini III