In Focus

Class sizes across Texas ballooning

Thursday, May 10, 2012

This week and next, thousands of our kids will take their final exams, but we found there's one grade schools are failing. Class sizes are increasing all over the state despite state law that tries to limit it. We investigate classrooms all over our area to show us just how serious the problem is.

Texas law says kindergarten through fourth-grade classes across the state should max out at 22 kids per teacher, but when we looked, we found some schools with 28-30 kids. The one way schools can get around it is by asking for a waiver. And after the state cut billions of dollars in education funding, the number of waivers skyrocketed. They were up 45 percent in HISD, 262 percent in Aldine and up nearly 300 percent in Cy-Fair. Another seven districts reported waivers for the first time this year.

Pearland Middle School science teacher Damon Rayburn has 37 students in his class. Thirty-seven kids all with questions, some with confusion, and come frog dissection day next week, many of them with scalpels.

"That's going to be difficult," Rayburn said.

"It's too much," Berry Miller Junior High principal Kim Brooks said.

Brooks runs Pearland's Berry Miller Junior High School, where the class size average is 29 students per classroom. It's the largest in the district and she knows it's hurting her students.

"It's those kids in the middle who are doing just fine that aren't getting the attention," Brooks said. "That's most of our kids."

"I'm out in schools constantly," said Dr. Jerome Freiberg with the University of Houston School of Education.

Freiberg reviewed recent class size research for us. And while there's no universal agreement, the one thing it all shows without a doubt is that putting more kids in a classroom cuts the one thing students need most.

"Best reward a child can get is acknowledgement and interaction with their teacher. The larger the class size, the less that will occur," Freiberg said.

State data shows first- and second-grade classes are close to the 22:1 cap, but we routinely found fourth grade glasses above 30 kids. And once students get to fifth grade or later, class sizes balloon.

HISD's Emerson Elementary averages 30 students; Revere Middle School has an average of 30 kids in social studies classes; science classes at Wheatley High School have 33 kids. We found a chemistry class at North Forest High School with 51 students.

We're not picking on any of those districts. Class sizes are getting bigger all over and they're like to get bigger still before the problem gets any better.

"It is affecting my kids, there are more kids in the classroom," HISD parent Sue Deigaard said.

Deigaard blames it all on cuts in state funding and pushes parents to stop this trend.

"There are not enough parents and community members stepping up and saying enough is enough, this is valuable," she said.

But until something changes in his classroom, Rayburn will sweat dissection day, hoping his 37 great students don't decide to start misbehaving that day.

"Do you sleep before frog dissection day?" we asked him.

"No, no," he said.

Thirty-seven students for one teacher certainly is a lot, but it's not completely out of the ordinary.

Go to this map to see how big your child's classrooms are. When you're there, click on the red dots near your home to find your child's school to the class size average for every grade or subject area.

(Copyright ©2014 KTRK-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

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