Education

Schools struggle to meet new class-size rules. What does that mean for your child?

Classrooms on carts: NC class-size rules mean some teachers have no room of their own

North Carolina elementary schools are facing tough choices to find enough classrooms to meet smaller state-mandated K-3 class sizes. At Sycamore Creek Elementary School in Raleigh, several elective teachers lost their classrooms and now carry thei
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North Carolina elementary schools are facing tough choices to find enough classrooms to meet smaller state-mandated K-3 class sizes. At Sycamore Creek Elementary School in Raleigh, several elective teachers lost their classrooms and now carry thei

Hundreds of Wake County elementary school students will likely finish the school year in larger classes than the state allows.

Wake school leaders say 95 classes need a waiver from the state law that requires kindergarten through third-grade classes to have no more than 23 students this year. They say the district doesn’t have enough teachers to comply fully with the law, a problem they expect will continue next year as class-size limits continue to change.

Ninety-one of the classes that need waivers this year are considered enhancement courses, such as art, music and physical education, for kindergarten through second grade. Most have enrollments in the high 20s, but a few creep into the 30s, according to school staff. A kindergarten music class at Lincoln Heights Elementary in Fuquay-Varina has 42 students.

The other four classes that need a waiver are third grade, staff said.

Superintendent Jim Merrill said last week that Wake will continue to struggle to meet smaller mandated class sizes because the state legislature has not funded additional teacher positions for the 2018-19 school year.

Wake is asking for a waiver now because school districts are required to report their class sizes twice a year to account for changes in enrollment.

State lawmakers say smaller classes will help improve education for young students. State-mandated class sizes for kindergarten through third grade dropped by one student this year. Starting next school year, class-size limits will continue to drop:

▪ Kindergarten classes can’t exceed 18 students.

▪ First-grade classes can’t exceed 16 students.

▪ Second- and third-grade classes can’t exceed 17 students.

State lawmakers say the smaller class sizes would help improve education for young students.

Some school districts and education advocates have been pushing state lawmakers to ease the new rules. In Wake, school leaders say the changes will require them to find space for the equivalent of 559 classrooms and 9,200 students.

School board member Bill Fletcher said last week he worried about finding enough teachers for next school year.

“If Wake needs 10 percent of the state’s supply of teachers to do this, that’s 4,350 teachers that aren’t in North Carolina today,” he said. “So whatever decision the legislature makes, now is the time to make it, because recruiting another 400 teachers between now and July who don’t know we have positions available is really an issue.”

Fletcher also said he was concerned the mandate would not improve students’ learning in the long run. In some elementary schools, music and art teachers no longer have their own classrooms and now use a rolling cart to bring materials to regular classrooms.

“Having art on a cart, I’m not sure how you get tempera paint to dry,” he said. “Having music on a cart – imagine being in the classroom next door trying to teach math while percussion instruments are being played for a rhythm exercise. It’s actually detrimental to the quality of instruction going on in our schools.”

To deal with smaller class-size limits, Wake also made other changes, including:

▪ Put enrollment caps on eight elementary schools.

▪ Continued enrollment caps at four other elementary schools.

▪ Closed 25 elementary schools to new transfer students.

▪ Reduced how many new magnet students are accepted at Combs, Douglas, Hunter, Joyner, Kingswood and Wendell elementary schools.

▪ Reduced the number of new year-round students accepted at Brier Creek, Carpenter, Oak Grove and Sycamore Creek elementary schools.

▪ Increased class sizes for fourth and fifth grades, which are not affected by the new state law.

Pressley Baird: 919-829-8935; Twitter: @pressleybaird

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