Parent: Class size unequal in Cobb
by Hannah Morgan
November 18, 2013 11:31 PM | 5723 views | 27 27 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
John Morris stands inside the front doors of Kell High School near a portrait of Carlton "Corky" Kell, whom the school is named after. Morris has researched class sizes throughout the county and believes they are unequal and flawed.
John Morris stands inside the front doors of Kell High School near a portrait of Carlton "Corky" Kell, whom the school is named after. Morris has researched class sizes throughout the county and believes they are unequal and flawed.
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MARIETTA — Worried parent John Morris presented the school board with evidence last week that says class sizes are unequal across the county.

Board members were unsure of how to fix the problem, citing budget constraints.

Morris, a father of four, has been researching class sizes in the district’s schools for months, and distributed a 33-page summary of his findings to board members Wednesday.

Class sizes and the number of teachers allotted to students at each school is a complicated puzzle of course offerings, enrollment estimates and state and local funding, board members said, and a solution is nowhere in sight.

“This is a hodge-podge of variables, and there is no, quick, easy solution,” said board member David Morgan.

Morris said he had done exhaustive work analyzing trends and patterns within the class sizes across the county.

Some schools enjoy an abundance of reasonably sized classes, while others have to endure larger class sizes, he found.

As a parent, Morris argued that he thinks parents should expect their children to have similar class sizes no matter what school they attend.

“It’s not consistent across schools … this does not look reasonable to me,” he said. “It’s not fair.”

Morris wants the inequities to be balanced out by next year, he told board members, who said they were aware of the problem, but unsure how to fix it with their current budget.

Numbers vary in county

As board members flipped through Morris’s findings, filled with charts, graphs and figures, board member David Banks asked, “Would you explain what these numbers really mean to us?”

Morris has found that class sizes varied widely at every school in the county in elementary, middle and high schools, and were not correlated with Title 1 status or location within the district, he said.

He found that as of Nov. 1, students at Kell High School spent 47 percent of their day in oversized classes, while students at Walton spent 14 percent of their day in oversized classes, and South Cobb High School students spent 61 percent of their day in oversized classrooms.

Students at Griffin Middle School spent 81 percent of their day in oversized classrooms. It was 55 percent for students at East Cobb Middle School and 32 percent for Smitha students, according to his charts.

To get another teacher for a gifted class at Campbell High School, the school needs to identify 18 gifted students, at Allatoona it is 46, at Walton it’s 27 and at Hillgrove it’s 71, Morris found.

Morris was confused, he said, as to how the numbers could be so varied. He wanted answers and solutions, but board members said their hands were tied by budget constraints and a number of enrollment factors.

“They have a bunch of excuses as to why things are different,” he said. “I don’t think they understand it.”

Despite his efforts to alert the district and the board of the class size inequity, Morris doesn’t think his message is getting through.

“They’re running a billion-dollar industry by the seat of their pants,” he said. “My biggest concern is they will move too slowly and won’t be able to get anything done before next year.”

Scamihorn admitted the problem would most likely take a few years to solve. He said it hopes it will take the district a maximum of three years to figure it out.

District formula and methods

The state has placed a limit on the maximum number of students for each grade and subject. For high school English, math, social studies, science and foreign language, the state sets a max of 32 students per classroom. For middle schools, the maximum is 28 students, for grades 4-5, it is 28 students, grades 1-3 are set at 21 students, and kindergarten is 18 students, according to the Georgia Department of Education.

If the district wants to keep its funding for full-time students, called FTE funding, it must apply for a waiver from the state if it expects it will fill classes with more than the maximum allotted students, said Board Chair Randy Scamihorn.

If the district doesn’t get the waiver approved, then it would be forced to pay for each student over the maximum allotment out of pocket, he said. Last year, the district applied for a waiver that would allow it to fill classrooms with up to five students over the maximum, and this year, they asked to fill classes with up to eight students over the maximum, Scamihorn said.

Morris said there seemed to be no rhyme or reason for how many students packed classrooms across the district each day.

A number of factors are considered when determining teacher allotment and class sizes, Superintendent Michael Hinojosa told the board. Special education classes, the size of classrooms, Early Intervention Program students, ESL classes, foreign language courses, AP classes and electives all came into play when determining class sizes, and the district is constantly shifting teachers around and monitoring class sizes, Hinojosa said.

The district has already cut down on the number of elective courses offered at schools to save money, Hinojosa said.

He admitted that the system “is not perfect,” but ultimately, the cost-saving austerity cuts the district has been forced to make has pushed classes above the state maximum levels.

Cheryl Hungerford, the deputy superintendent of leadership and learning for the district, explained to the board the county determines class sizes and allotments through a formula, and works with the number of teachers, students and classes available at each school to determine classroom sizes and the number of teachers at each school.

“I’m going to tell you, I too am concerned about class sizes. As we begin in the budget process for next year, we are looking at class sizes,” and how they will be impacted by the district’s anticipated $80 million budget shortfall in 2014, she said.

Hungerford added that the district has cut 1,300 teachers since 2010, and grown by 23,000 students, which has forced them to increase their class sizes past the state maximums. Board members were unsure of what to make of the numbers and asked the superintendent for a comprehensive chart that would break down the district’s class sizes, total number of students, courses offered and all other variables at play in classroom sizes.

Board tied by deficit

Board member Kathleen Angelucci said she was concerned by how the numbers were so unbalanced.

“If you look at the district as a whole, we are under capacity,” she said.

And yet, some classes are still bursting with students.

“It seems like it is not equal across the board,” she said.

Board member David Banks agreed.

“We’ve got too many schools we can’t afford. Some of those schools have to close,” he said. “The problem is, which ones?”

Banks said the board needed to come up with a plan to fix the inequities and the budget, but wasn’t hopeful it would happen by next year.

“What are we going to do to stop it?” Banks asked of the board.

Parents worried

Parents in the room were shocked by Morris’s findings. Michelle Tisdale, who has a fourth-grader and seventh-grader in the school system, said “it’s so helpful just to have the information. Class size is a concern across the board.”

Her daughter, a fourth-grader at Mountain View Elementary, is in a class of 31 students, she said, and the size of her class makes it difficult for her teacher to provide her with personal attention.

“She could thrive under personal attention, but she is not given that opportunity in a class of 31 (students),” Tisdale said.

Tisdale hoped the board would be able to reconcile the disparities across the county, although Banks wasn’t sure there was a quick fix to the problem.

“It’s a serious problem; the concern I have is how is it affecting our scores. Are we at the pinnacle of declining?” he asked.

Connie Jackson, the president of the Cobb County Association of Educators, a teacher advocacy group, said she was disturbed by the inequity in class sizes and the allotment process.

While there will always be differences in schools and grades across the county, Jackson said, “I think it is the responsibility of the board to fix this.”

Comments
(27)
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Just Sayin'....
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November 20, 2013
What was not mentioned in this article was that of the high schools in Cobb County, Harrison is the only one that is not exceeding the waiver levels set by the state for class sizes. That is good news for Harrison. It is interesting that we are currently expanding Harrison and are not actively looking at re-zoning some of the extra numbers at other high schools into Harrison.
Former CCSD Teacher
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November 19, 2013
Bravo John Morris! The Cobb County school district is going down the drain ( I feel qualified to make this remark. I attended Cobb schools from kindergarten through grade 12[and received an excellent education]. I have family members who taught in Cobb for over 20 years. I taught in Cobb and left-not because of the students or parents). Sadly, the district does not listen to (nor ask for) the opinions of its teachers or employees. I'm THRILLED that you as a parent are paving the way for reform across our district. What some people do not realize is the enormous impact of the district's decisions NOW ( which you clearly do as you mentioned in your comments below regarding the classes with 29 students at Austell elementary). Not only do our students suffer but the entire county has the potential to suffer the consequences as well(ie: rising dropout rates, lower property values, and so on). Thank you John Morris for doing what many teachers wish they could do. We need more parents like you around who are actively involved in their child's education and strive to create change through the proper channels.
Cobb PTT
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November 19, 2013
John, as a Cobb parent, taxpayer, and teacher, thank you, thank you, thank you for taking the time to do this. I wish parents everywhere throughout the county knew how bad it could be class-size-wise. This discrepancy doesn't just happen school to school, but also class to class within the schools - in gen ed classrooms, too, so don't be fooled into thinking it's not your child's class.
teacher undercover
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November 19, 2013
I am a teacher in the Cobb school system and I agree that class sizes are unbalance. I teach middle school and have classes of 35 . It is hard and next to impossible to give all my students personalized attention. I cannot move around my room because of all the desk. We need help and we need it now. Our students are suffering and our future is in jeopardy.
Ed Barker
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November 19, 2013
I dislike taxes and tax increases as much as anyone but my fear is that Cobb County schools are on the precipice of a dramatic decline because of this unwillingness to pay for education. CCSD has no debt, and the taxpayers have in the past shown a consistent willingness to support education, SPLOST IV being the latest example.

It seems the governance model here is to follow the philosophy of Grover Norquist of reforming government through financial starvation. What is really happening here is we are damaging the next generation with this mess. Senator Alan Simpson’s warning about the current generation bankrupting the next generation by our refusal to properly pay our bills comes to mind.

I am personally willing to see some modest property tax adjustment and even a penny sales tax to push our schools back to the forefront and away from this educational cliff we are going over. We need to put 2,000 teachers in the classroom.

A side note: Regarding the last SPLOST, I disagree with constructing charter Career Academy. That $ 30M should have been split amongst the CCSD high schools to restore and improve the facilities for the programs that are being attempted at the Career Academy. Many high school students would have celebrated having those Career Academy resources dispersed throughout the high schools.

The board frets about the impact of the test scores. I’m worried about losing the next generation. The fruits of our work isn’t scores but the next generation of productive citizens.

Ed Barker

STEM Leadership Foundation

Kennesaw, Georgia

Janet Rau
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November 19, 2013
Why we do what we do...

As part of the founding community at The SAE School, I applaud Mr. Morris for his work uncovering these truths. While we were trying to make our case to become a charter school serving S. Cobb (denied by the Cobb BOE) we pointed to the disparity in SAT scores, % of students taking the SAT & funding for S. Cobb vs. E. Cobb.

When the BOE denied our charter petition, our organization's board of directors chose to open The SAE School as an independent school instead. Our children cannot wait for the politicians to take years to "investigate" how to fix what they don't even seem to understand. Our community's children deserve an education now!

Uh-duh
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November 19, 2013
Janet,

Before you jump the gun on how great the SAE school is, why don't you wait for test scores to be released. You are planning to test your students using the IOWA and CRCT right? Also, let's not forget your "homogenization" via the requirement for transportation to be provided by the parent. Offer bus service, open your enrollment to ALL students and then let's talk.
Forecasting
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November 19, 2013
The school has been forecasting for years. They have a map with all of the schools which lists future enrollment. They DO NOT redistrict and this is the issue. We have schools that are under capacity but the district continues to build more schools instead of redistricting. No business sense with this district. Every school should have the same amount of teachers per pupil ratio. Title l schools have IEP and ESL teachers for support. As to the illegal issue, the schools are not required to ask for legal status. It is against the law to not educate someone based on their citizen status. That is crazy the government making a law that it is illegal to come to this country with out papers but illegal to not educate illegals!
Gwinnett Gets Cobb $
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November 19, 2013
What about the inequity of title 1 school systems such as Gwinnett receiving money for public schools and Cobb donating millions of dollars a year to this fund. Gwinnett gave teachers a raise this year, but Cobb cannot afford to do the same. The last time this state run system evaluated each county's ranking was too many years ago. I doubt if Gwinnett would qualify today but perhaps Cobb would due to all the transient students.
JoEllen Smith
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November 19, 2013
John, Thanks for all your hard work, along with your co-author and researcher Tricia Knor. I'm thrilled that both of you care so much for the Cobb Schools. You made a great presentation at the Board meeting.
Joellen needs to go
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December 05, 2013
Jo Ellen, please don't give us your opinion... we don't care
anonymous
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November 19, 2013
An ugly secret needs to be aired: High School teachers who receive their gifted endorsement are not getting that FTE credit for their individual schools. As pointed out in the story, the extra funding seems to go to east Cobb schools. (Walton, Pope, Lassiter).
John Morris
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November 19, 2013
Lassiter does indeed have more gifted students than, say, Hillgrove. The problem is that Lassiter earns one gifted teacher for every 24 gifted students. Hillgrove, however, earns one gifted teacher for every 71 gifted students.
Ryan Rish
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November 19, 2013
Is the report available electronically?
John Morris
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November 19, 2013
You can send a request for the information packet provided to the Board, Senior Staff, and media to perlucidus1@gmail.com.
Mom of Two
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November 19, 2013
They have made so many loopholes to get around the class size. I think the bigger issue is discipline. If students are not allowed to be disruptive then they teachers can teach. Forty years ago, disruptive students were removed from the class, parents were embarrassed, children were disciplined and the rest of the class learned. Today many disruptive students have IEP that allow the behavior, teachers constantly redirect, if child is removed parent is livid and instead of children being disciplined the teacher is reprimanded. Needless to say less instruction and less learning takes place Recent college tours reminded me that large lecture classes still take place and guess what? Students learn.
Disruptions all day
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November 19, 2013
We can not longer remove students and they simply bring them back to the room. Due to budget cuts, special ed. is now inclusive in the reg. gen. ed. rooms with no special ed. certified teacher in the room. The principal has the Sp. Ed. teacher coming in for one segment leaving the regular classroom teacher to deal with problems all day long. The teachers have to spend 78% of their day trying to get the special ed. kids to just sit down. Our classrooms are a mess and no one cares. We are losing staff left a right. The county still owes teachers their two percent they cut. I am sure being an election year the state will call it a raise and the CCSD will take it away by cutting their share. CCSB does not care!
Amazing parent
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November 19, 2013


"Worried parent John Morris presented the school board with evidence last week that says class sizes are unequal across the county."

It is truly impressive when a parent takes the time and discovers the unequal situation at Cobb county schools. Some folks just complain about what Morris has done for the doing nothing people.

Mr. Morris - here is your "A" for your work.

Just Wait
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November 19, 2013
Thanks for spending all that time in identifying a problem. Pity you didn't spend any time in identifying a solution.
Hildymac
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November 19, 2013
Oh, so it's a private citizen's job to formulate solutions to now school district problems now?

Of course, they can't properly ID the problems, so I guess it does make sense that the citizens'll have to identify the solutions, too.
John Morris
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November 19, 2013
The immediate solution is shielding schools with a class size crisis from the effects of attrition and layoffs and moving teachers. The immediate problem is convincing the board and senior staff that inequity is a problem.
Common Sense
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November 19, 2013
When you allow illegals into the school system who siphon all the resources and place a greater burden on the budget, its a wonder we are where we are. It is only going to get worse.
sendemhome
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November 19, 2013
Agreed. Have no clue why those elected can't see the obvious. Sucking our resources, DRY!
anonymous
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November 19, 2013
Kudos to a parent that raises concerns about education in an appropriate forum. However, please visit Cobb's Board of Education web site. They are planning ahead and are forecasting into 2023. They are keeping up with the future. Unfortunately, many parents want schools to be stuck in 2013.
John Morris
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November 19, 2013
A child goes to kindergarten only once. A kindergarten class with 29 kids is a travesty, such is the situation at Austell Elementary. Not every school has 29 kids in a Kindergarten class, but Austell does. What happens in 2023 is important, but not nearly so important as what happens to the kindergartener in 2013.
To Mr.Morris
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November 19, 2013
THANK YOU! Teachers have been the subject of bashing by politicians and the public. Why blame parents when you can blame teachers, right? We are frustrated and have no support from administration or the board. We need parents to stand up for their children! This is the only way things will change. The only plan the board has is to cut teachers, cut salaries, cut the school year down and raise class sizes and their own salaries! HELP THE CHILDREN! We appreciate your efforts!
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