When Florida voters passed the class size amendment, they thought classes would be capped at 18 students for grades K-3, 22 for grades 4-8, and 25 students for high school classes.
But it only applies to core subjects, not advanced placement classes or electives, and now some parents are complaining that the school districts are using a loophole to get around the restrictions entirely.
As an example, Travis Boldon teaches language arts at Miami Beach Senior High School. His English 1 honors class has 33 students. It’s a core class, so the limit should be 25. Boldon says overcrowding creates multiple problems.
"If a certain student needs to see you personally or have feedback from you personally, they’re not able to get that feedback that they require especially with writing or reading remediation,” Boldon explained.
Freshman Jack Rynor is in that class, and his mom is angry that it’s over the limit.
“I am mad about it, I think it absolutely affects their education,” said Kayla Rynor, who is also past president of the school’s PTSA. “You have many classes that are over 25, which is what has been happening at Beach High.”
Rynor says her son’s school and many others have overcrowded core classes because a state law passed two years ago allows class sizes to be counted by the average number of students in all of a school’s core classes, instead of each individual class, as long as that school is designated as a “school of choice."
“I would call it an end-run, I would also say now the exceptions have become the rule, there really is no class-size anymore,” Rynor said.
“That’s not the case,” counters Vivian Santiesteban-Pardo, regional superintendent for Miami-Dade Public Schools. “We’re using the school of choice designation because the law allows us that flexibility as well as providing the choices for students for what they need and for what they would like to take.”
Broward County now has 221 schools of choice, Miami-Dade has 297, including Miami Beach Senior, which means those schools offer programs that can attract students from outside the school’s normal boundaries.
“That’s our goal, universal choice, and schools can no longer just stick to math, science, social studies and language arts, we have to be competitive,” said Santiesteban-Pardo.
Schedules have to be juggled for each student, sometimes resulting in a class tipping over the class size limit.
“A lot of it depends on the number of kids that are requesting certain classes and us trying to be able to meet their needs,” said Valtena Brown, the deputy superintendent for Miami-Dade Public Schools.
Brown says if a student wants an elective and needs a core class, schools will err on the side of giving that student the schedule he or she wants, even if it means overscheduling a core class. She says it’s not financially feasible to hire another teacher just to teach the handful of kids who might be raising the class size over the limit.
In schools of choice, class size can be calculated creatively. For example, there are 39 kids in one 2nd grade classroom at David Lawrence K-8 Center in North Miami, however, there are two teachers in that class.
Likewise, NBC 6 visited a kindergarten class that’s over the size limit, but not for co-teachers.
“You do your best to meet class size whatever you have to do so co-teaching really helps us out,” said Bernie Osborn, principal of David Lawrence K-8 Center.
Research on class size is not conclusive. Some studies show significant improvement in student achievement with fewer students in a class, while other studies show no difference at all. But most research does indicate that the younger the kids are, the more they benefit from class-size reductions. If you’re concerned about the size of your child’s class, get involved.
“As a parent, I would look at what’s happening in the classroom, is your kid functioning? are they getting the best education, are their needs being met in the classroom?” advises Valtena Brown.