To the Editor:
We have a great school system in Fairfax County. Our test scores are high, our students are engaged in challenging educational curriculums, and our schools have received national recognition as being some of the best in the nation. As a matter of fact, many families choose to move to Fairfax County over other counties in the Washington Metropolitan Area because of our high-quality schools. However, without paying close attention to one of the most basic and important, aspects of the educational experience, class size, our school district will falter. Small class sizes are important for a variety of reasons, including the development of a stronger student-teacher rapport and improved morale as well as the increase of student achievement and success, especially among historically underachieving groups.
Student-teacher relationships are greatly improved when there are fewer students in the classroom. Reducing class sizes results in more one-on-one instructional time for each student. Knowing this, students are more able to interact with their teachers, turning impractical, non-interactive lectures into dynamic, effective, engaging learning experiences. For this reason, students will have less difficulty asking their teachers for help, and with less administrative work, including paperwork, grading, behavior management, etc., teachers will be able to focus on what they truly love; teaching. Having been in four school districts and six schools throughout my educational career, I have discovered that when my classes have been small, I have had better, more open relationships with my instructors and have therefore been more able to learn from them.
Overall, morale is improved when class sizes are decreased, especially among teachers. According to the Pennsylvania State Education Association, reduced class sizes lead to higher morale, which translates into higher attendance rates and lower attrition rates. This leads to lower expenditures for substitute teachers, as well as higher teacher retention. According to the proposed budget for FCPS in FY2013, $19,510,889 is allotted for substitutes. According to the same document, FCPS is proposing to allot $3,154,944 for teacher training for the next fiscal year. Although these costs cannot and should not be eliminated in completely, increased morale through class size cuts will allow decreases in these budgets. In addition, happier teachers create better educational environments. According to Gallup research published in the New York Times, "lower job satisfaction foreshadowed poorer bottom-line performance." Can we afford "poorer bottom-line performance" when it comes to our children?
Student achievement especially benefits from small class sizes. According to the Center for Public Education, Wisconsin's Student Achievement Guarantee in Education program saw that "students in grades 1-3 in SAGE classrooms scored significantly higher...than students in traditional classrooms." In addition, students in the smaller classes had lower average pretest scores, but showed significantly higher scores on the post-test. Tennessee's Student/Teacher Achievement Ratio found that gains in student achievement from classes of 13 to 17 students were typically twice as large for poor and African-American students, historically underachieving demographics. In addition, the gains for all students persisted for years after said students were placed back in regular-sized classrooms. Florida has also seen great improvements in student achievement because of constitutionally-required class size limits that limit classes for grades K through 3 of 18, 3 through 8 of 22, and 9 through 12 of 25. Florida increased its NAEP score by seven points in fourth grade reading between 2003 and 2011, while Virginia increased it by only three points in the same period.
Smaller class sizes are beneficial for all of us in the Fairfax County public schools. When considering the budget for this coming fiscal year, please keep this in mind. Quality of education is dependent on the ability to learn from a teacher; if a student is unable to get the help he needs from a teacher, he will falter and be unable to reach his academic potential. Fairfax County schools are great, but couldn't we make them better? Smaller class sizes will help us improve while maintaining Fairfax's educational superiority.
Sophomore, Robinson Secondary School