The Montgomery County public schools have 2,999 classes, covering all grade levels, with 31 students or more, according to a report released this week by the Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA).
The report, which contains figures on 155 of the county's 191 public schools, identifies 533 of those classes as "critically" large because they each contain 36 students or more. The MCEA report quotes an August 1977 study on classroom size by the National Education Association as stating that classes having 25 students or less "create a better educational climate."
"I expected large physical education classes," said MCEA president Henry Heller of the report, "but not social studies."
The report says that classes of English, social studies, math, and the sciences were frequently in the 26-35 range which, MCEA says, is considered "large" by the National Education Association.
"The difference between 25 and 35 is the difference in the amount of 'what if' time," said Marti Looper, a Rockville High School English teacher who is one of the nine-member classroom teachers' committee of MCEA that compiled the report. "It's the time for students to pursue questions (on material), to have divergence in thinking."
Heller and the committee dismissed as meaningless statistics contained in the school system's recent report that says the average class size in elementary schools is now 27.7, an increase from last year's 26.6, and 26.8 in secondary schools.
"We don't care at all about the average classroom size," said committee chairman Jim Deligianis, a teacher at Brookhaven Elementary School. "We care about classes that have 31 kids or more. We'd like to see class size down to 25."
MCEA will send copies of the reports to PTA's and inform all their delegates of the report. "We'd like to see more support from PTA's," said Deligianis. "We're not blaming the school board. We're really blaming the Montgomery County Council for budget cuts."
Harry Pitt, associate superintendent for administration, said he did not think there was much disparity between official school figures and those of MCEA. "I think we should have smaller classes," he said, "but not all classes should be 25. If you had every class at 25, you would not be able to have special programs. I'd like to see average class size go down."
Deligianis and Heller said more money for the school budget was needed to fund more teachers. "Where is the county going to put their priorities?" asked Heller. "We talk about basics. Education is a basic of the county. (You) do not create new programs until you fund the old ones." Heller suggested that the council could cut funds from the Recreation Department which he claimed has grown dramatically in the past years.
Heller said he has watched the size of his social studies classes at Wheaton High School go from 24-26 four years ago to 35-36 currently. The changing student-teacher ratio, he said, was due to a hiring freeze on teachers since October and not replacing those who leave. Also, he said teachers are being used for special programs which deploy teachers to very small groups of students and often leave more traditionally academic classes with more students to fewer teachers.