New challenge: Be smart about class-size rules

I'm all for small school classes.

As a youth-soccer coach, I understand it is much easier yelling at 10 kids to pay attention than 20 kids.


I recently gave Jeb Bush props for his school reforms that improved test scores. But having fewer students per class sure didn't hurt those scores, even if Jeb wouldn't admit it if you strapped him to a water board.

Bush opposed the 2002 class-size amendment and tried every devious trick in his arsenal to get rid of it.


He didn't. Parents love it. So do teachers. Kids are doing well.

Smaller classes are a hit. And according to the amendment, this means 18 children per class through third grade, 22 children in fourth through eighth grades, and 25 in high school.

But how hard and fast should those numbers be? That is the question before us today.

Smaller classes are being phased in. This year, school districts must meet the above target numbers based on school averages.

So, an elementary school could have 18 kids in all its K-3 classes, except two first-grade classes with 17 kids and two third-grade classes with 19 kids.

That's no biggie because the average for all K-3 classes is 18 kids.

But beginning next year, schools will have to move toward meeting the limits in every single class.

This is a big biggie.


Let's say an elementary school has five third-grade classes, each with 18 kids. And a week into the school year, two more third-grade kids move into the neighborhood.

The school could be forced to hire another teacher, come up with another classroom and then divvy up the existing third-graders to create six classes.

This would be expensive, disruptive and entirely ridiculous.

Another Draconian solution would be to ship the odd kids out to another school. Good luck on that when parents show up at the next school-board meeting.

So what we need is a plan that allows the tiniest bit of flexibility, without creating a loophole that allows districts to begin packing the kids in like sardines.

I think that means sticking with a variation of the current schoolwide average -- leaving specialty classes for learning-disabled or gifted kids out of the calculations.


Money is too precious to be spent on reshuffling classrooms, students and teachers around to accommodate a rigid number.

The big picture is smaller classes. It is not obsessing about whether the occasional second-grade class might have 19 kids instead of 18, or a high-school history class might have 26 kids instead of 25.

This would invite ridicule, and ultimately undermine the class-size amendment.

"It truly has been successful," says Seminole Superintendent Bill Vogel.

"We have the result to show it has been a plus. Now is the time to look at it and fine-tune it."

Any attempt to amend the class-size amendment with Jeb in office was doomed to fail because of his antagonism toward it.


But Charlie Crist has endorsed it. That gives him the credibility to work with teachers on a fine-tuning amendment that ultimately protects the current one.