Maria Flores remembers hearing the story about how her daughter wet her pants in kindergarten class.
As she recalls it, her “very quiet” daughter raised her hand to use the restroom, but the teacher – who had 30 other kids in class at Winchell Elementary School in Fresno – was busy tending to another child that hurt himself. She wet her pants.
“The teacher didn’t see my daughter because there were too many kids,” Flores said. She estimates that at least six students had similar accidents during the first week of school.
The teacher felt bad when she explained what had happened: “I don’t even know what to say, I’m sorry,” Flores said the teacher told her.
For Flores, the incident is a clear example of why teachers need smaller class sizes, which for her, would ideally be 18 to 19 students.
Flores, who attended a Fresno Unified rally Friday, said she’s supporting teachers if they strike next week because she has a preschool age son who will enter kindergarten soon. She wants him to have better learning conditions. Fresno Unified Teachers voted overwhelmingly to strike on Wednesday, unless they can come to agreement on such issues as controlling class size and pay.
Fresno Unified teachers and teachers nationwide say they want smaller class sizes. Studies show that smaller classes are generally better for students, although research is divided about the level of improvement that smaller classes can provide, according to an analysis by education news site, Chalkbeat.
Class sizes are one of the major issues still on the bargaining table that union leaders say they want to see addressed by the district.
FTA President Manuel Bonilla told The Bee on Friday morning that they’re in conversations with the district about class sizes, but he couldn’t comment on the specifics. District officials confirmed they’ve received an updated proposal from the FTA on Tuesday and that the two groups are meeting on Saturday.
What does Fresno district, teacher union want?
Fresno Unified School District is working towards the goal of an average class of a maximum of 24 students for kindergarten through third grades, according to a class size policy adopted by the board of trustees in June 2022.
The California Teachers Association, which Fresno Teachers Association belongs to, recommends 20 students in regular elementary and secondary school classes.
The district’s latest proposal unveiled earlier this month included a gradual class size reduction plan as well as stipends for teachers whose class sizes surpass certain limits.
Under their proposal, the district would make a “reasonable effort” to maintain class sizes at or below the following limits:
Grades K-3: 28 for the 2024-2025 school year; 27 for the 2025-2026 school year
Grades 4-6: 34 for the 2023-2024 school year; 32 for the 2024-2025 school year; 31 for the 2025-2026 school year
Grades 7-8: 37 for the 2023-2024 school year; 35 for the 2024-2025 school year; 34 for the 2025-2026 school year
Grades 9-12: 37 for the 2023-2024 school year; 36 for the 2024-2025 school year; 35 for the 2025-2026 school year
These limits would not be guaranteed, however, and would be subject to financial constraints, student allocations, class scheduling, instructional and student needs.
Teachers would be eligible for either a classroom aide to support instruction or stipends if they meet the following criteria:
Elementary teachers would be eligible for a $2,000 annual increase for having over 33 students in the classroom for over 50% of the school year (to be paid at the end of the year)
Secondary teachers with core, continuing technical education and visual arts sections with more than 36 students the classroom for over 50% of the school would be eligible for a $500 annual increase per section to be paid at the end of the year
For middle school, the district prioritizes reducing class sizes for English language arts, mathematics, science, social studies, and other graduation requirement courses. Per the policy, the superintendent is supposed to update the board annually on the impact of the class size reduction program on student achievement and other related student outcomes.
Currently, average class sizes for self-contained classes in California are 24.2 for elementary school, 22.3 for middle school, and 18.3 for high school, according to national education data.
The FTA is asking for more aggressive student-teacher ratio caps compared to what the district is proposing. This includes:
Transitional kindergarten- kindergarten: 12:1
Grades 1-3: 22:1
Grades 4-6: 25:1
Grades 7-8: 25:1
Grades 9-12: 27: 1
In addition, they’ve asked for an 18:1 student-teacher ratio at the lowest performing elementary school sites. It’s not immediately clear what changes the union’s latest proposal suggested on class sizes, if any.
Fresno Unified average class size, according to state data
According to the California Department of Education’s latest available data, the average class size for elementary and middle school ages in Fresno Unified range from about 20 students for kindergarten to 27 for sixth grade.