District 203 has little, if any justification to increase high school class sizes

William Tong, Editor-in-Chief & Editorial Editor

I could accurately say that I take seven classes, learn from seven teachers and interact with about 150 students on a daily basis. But to boil my educational experience — as well as any student or staff’s time at a Naperville District 203 school — down to a similar list of numbers would be ignorant at best and incredibly irresponsible at worst. 

So when it comes to staff and class size decisions, why does it seem like district administrators are making that very mistake? 

At Naperville Central, the number of class sections, or each individual period of a class taught by a single teacher, has fallen in most departments. But that decrease isn’t just based on lower total student enrollment or course enrollment like Chala Holland, assistant superintendent of secondary education, said at the March 21 school board meeting. 

If that were the case, average class sizes would stay the same. Instead, they’re increasing across the board, a majority of Central’s seven department chairs told Central Times. Some classes have more signups than last year, but will have fewer sections: for instance, AP Calculus BC, one of the most difficult math courses, will decrease from four to three sections. If each class had 21 students in the past, there’d now be 28. Furthermore, classes previously offered at Central, such as AP European History, which has 16 students signed up, will not be offered next year, as this number of registered students, once considered an acceptable level of enrollment to allow a class to run, is now suddenly not enough.

My earlier question was by no means rhetorical. I’m genuinely confused as to why we need to cut sections and increase class sizes. Both Superintendent Dan Bridges and Holland said at the board meeting that these cuts are based on what classes students sign up for and historical course drop data, but that doesn’t explain the increased class sizes. Holland also said that certain departments are overstaffed. Again, why increase class sizes across the board? Without more transparent justification, it feels that aside from hitting some arbitrary numbers, there’s no benefit to this new allocation of classes and sections. As the old saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” 

These changes will, however, adversely impact students’ educational experience. Students are still recovering from the pandemic’s negative effects on their learning, so more than ever, they need individualized attention from teachers. With increased class sizes, English and social studies teachers will now have more speeches to watch and essays to grade in the same amount of time. It will be harder for math teachers to answer every student’s questions, and science teachers can’t give students as much hands-on assistance during labs. Even SOAR periods can’t fully offset the consequences to instruction, because SOAR periods are often less specialized. Forcing fewer educators to instruct more kids moves us in the wrong direction. 

As district administrators have allotted fewer sections and increased class sizes, administrators at Central have been forced to make cuts to full time teaching positions. While the district has hired more student services personnel like social workers and behavioral specialists, this support should not come in exchange for moving teachers off the payroll, because ultimately, they’re the ones who directly enable every student’s educational success. 

It’s easy to reduce students and teachers to mere numbers on a spreadsheet, letting formulas and historical trends spit out sections and class sizes for the next school year. However, our district leaders cannot neglect how fluctuations could affect dozens of teachers’ livelihoods and students’ learning experience just to check boxes or fall within certain numerical ranges. If these massive shifts to a majority of students’ learning experience is the result of a few classes running with less than 15 students, are the changes really worth it? I can’t understand why or how.