In Portland Public Schools this year, only 14 percent of elementary school classes are so large that the teachers union says educators should receive extra pay to take on such a heavy load, according to figures provided by the district to The Oregonian/OregonLive.
But schools’ share of those large class sizes varies widely, from more than 60 percent in two city magnet schools to none in 21 of the district’s 58 schools that include elementary grades.
Portland teachers remained on strike for a 13th day Friday, with class sizes a huge sticking point in protracted negotiations. But the union’s agreement Thursday to no longer insist on strict limits on class sizes brought the two sides closer to a deal.
The district’s two largest elementary classes — fifth-grade classes with 36 and 35 students each — were both in the same school: the Vernon K-8 School in Northeast Portland.
The school, which serves 46 percent students of color and 33 percent who are on food stamps or known to have high needs, has repeatedly welcomed far more students each fall than the district anticipated, which led to gigantic classes at certain levels. said Maya Pueo von Geldern, Vernon’s parent manager.
This year, the district managed to hire an additional fifth-grade teacher and reorganize Vernon’s fifth grade into three classes with a student population of about 25 — but only before Oct. 30, she said. declared. Two days later, the strike canceled school days for most of November.
The district and union say they want to avoid classes with more than 24 students in kindergarten, 26 students in grades one through three and 28 students in grades four through five.
Magnet schools that welcome children from motivated families capable of enrolling their children in selective schools that do not provide transportation are better able to navigate large classes than neighborhood schools, particularly those that have a high proportion of students living in poverty or learning English in second grade. language. Indeed, children from these families tend to arrive at school equipped with basic skills and can count on the support of their parents or private tutors if they have difficulties.
Therefore, the schools that get the most attention on the list of schools with an outsized share of large classes include Boise-Eliot/Humboldt K-8 School and Rigler Elementary. Both are designated Title I schools because they serve a very high share of students facing poverty. More than 40 percent of Rigler students’ native language is Spanish or another language other than English, while Boise-Eliot/Humboldt has a particularly high share of black students.
Yet both have a significant share of extra-large classes. At Boise-Eliot, these include kindergarten classes of 28 and 25 students, as well as one second-grade class and two fourth-grade classes of 29 students each. In Rigler, the two kindergarten classes have 29 students.
In Vernon, Pueo von Geldern said, cramming 35 or 36 students into small classrooms was a logistical and educational disaster. Much of the teachers’ bandwidth was taken up with crowd control and managing conflict between students. “Children don’t learn enough,” she said.
Magnet schools do not face the same degree of challenges. Winterhaven K-8, a math and science magnet school, intentionally enrolls about 27 students per elementary classroom, both to accommodate families who want it and because classes of this size have proven feasible. It topped the rankings with four of its six elementary classes exceeding district-wide thresholds.
During months of negotiations for a new contract, union leaders pushed for strict caps on class size, telling members as recently as Wednesday evening that the two sides remained “far apart” on this. question.
But the phrase “class size cap” was crossed out Thursday in the union’s new proposal on teachers’ workload. Instead, the Portland Association of Teachers proposed a significant increase in excess pay that teachers receive when the number of students in their class, or in their caseload, exceeds a certain threshold.
Unless the district substantially changes its staffing arrangements for next school year, 30 percent of excess elementary teacher pay will go to just four schools, all serving relatively highly educated, affluent families: l The dual-immersion Japanese school in Richmond and Alameda, Ainsworth and Capitol. Hill Elementary Schools.
Education reporter Julia Silverman contributed to this report.
-Betsy Hammond; email@example.com ; @ChalkUp
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