Public education is a resource that the community of Madison highly values. Madison’s commitment to public schools was made clear when voters passed a referendum last fall by a 3-to-1 margin. Their endorsement provides the Madison Metropolitan School District's administration and School Board with the opportunity to restore some of what has been lost in the past few years.
Madison's Board of Education faces many decisions as they shape the budget for the 2018-19 school year. Budgets are statements of values and beliefs and, as such, speak to the direction that our schools should take moving forward. Educators, students and families rely on MMSD to provide equitable opportunities for every student.
Given these goals, it is logical to work to reduce class sizes. Educators and families have advocated for smaller class sizes for decades. This means more than looking at the ratio of professional staff to students in our schools. It involves putting hard caps on the number of students that any single classroom teacher can support.
Advocating for smaller class size isn't about "throwing money" at a problem. Reducing class size is a sound decision that benefits the students and staff who work and learn in Madison’s schools. The most convincing evidence shows significant academic gains in kindergarten through third grade, with the greatest progress demonstrated in groups with achievement and opportunity gaps.
All students — not just the youngest — benefit from smaller class sizes. Smaller classes can help staff increase student engagement in academic work. The smaller the class, the more interactive lessons can be, and the more access students have to direct support from their instructors.
Students are not the only ones who benefit from smaller class size. Smaller classes make educators' work more manageable. The more manageable their workload, the more likely it is that educators will stay in the profession.
When class sizes go down, families also benefit. Communication with educators is easier when class sizes are smaller. This allows for stronger relationships to be built between home and school.
There has been a tremendous amount of work done around behavior in Madison’s public schools. The Behavior Education Plan focuses on restorative practices. With smaller classes, teachers can work more closely with students to develop positive relationships.
The MMSD budget for the coming school year is a positive change. Given the shared vision that the Madison community has with district employees and administration, it makes sense for the Board of Education to look at the most effective ways to allocate its valuable resources. Cutting class size is a clear pathway to improving our schools for all students.
Andrew Waity is president of Madison Teachers Inc.
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