Class size affects education

Desks shoved wall-to-wall, a maze of backpacks and bodies to shuffle through, students constantly bumping elbows due to lack of space — welcome to an overcrowded classroom, a classroom many students across the country are forced to sit in.

The issue of classroom sizes has been prevalent for many years and continues to be a major concern for some. According to the ‘Education Statistics’ page on the Washington Education Association website, “Washington’s public school students are packed into the 4th most overcrowded classrooms out of [the] 50 states and Washington, D.C.”

Principal Jason Smith has been working at PHS for eight years and has witnessed the fluctuation in class sizes over this period of time.

“I think about four years ago when the economy crashed a bit, we saw an increase in the class sizes,” Smith said. “The district for the last few years has been able to get [class size] down and get it to a manageable rate, so it has been better the last few years.”

Because of the 1,536 of students that attend PHS, the topic of class size is relevant to students. Class sizes vary and that is partially due to the types of classes offered, whether it be a required class like English or an elective, such as an art class.

“Overall, I would love to have all class sizes be smaller. But again, it depends on the year, on what students want to sign up for but traditionally you can kind of predict what [class sizes] will be,” Smith said. “P.E. is usually fairly high and the music classes are fairly high. We are definitely seeing more students taking AP classes so there is a definite rise [in AP class sizes], which is a good thing. We have also seen a rise in art classes the last few years; we have had to add more teachers in art.”

The sizes of classes are determined by the administration at the school in addition to rules placed by the state and federal governments. The classes students sign up for also impacts the size of the classes.

“We get our staffing patterns from the state and from the district and from there I will sit down and I will determine who is teaching what and when,” Smith said. “Basically the numbers, what students sign up for, is [a big part of class sizes.] For example, every student takes geometry so geometry classes are always going to be fairly full. Every student takes biology, so biology classes will always be pretty full. But not everyone takes Microsoft Office or not everybody takes journalism, so it depends [on what students sign up for].”

So how PHS’s class sizes compare to those at other high schools in the district?

“I think compared to the district, we — Emerald Ridge, Rogers, Puyallup and Walker — are probably all about the same [in terms of class size]. Other districts, though, have different contracts. Different union contracts can change classroom sizes. At Sumner [School District], I know they can only have a certain amount of students in their classes,” Smith said. “I am not sure what that count is but here at Puyallup it is different. For us, we can have as many students as we want in a class but teachers do get paid what is called an ‘extra-load stipend’ if they exceed a certain amount of students — they get paid extra.”

Junior Fremon Seay believes that class sizes affect his and his peers’ ability to learn in the classroom.

“[In large classes] teachers have less time with each individual student. It is more or less a mathematical algorithm where the teacher would have so much time and it has got to be split between so many people,” Seay said. “It is like fractions. If there are less people, there is more time for each individual.”

Sophomore Kyle Thomas disagrees, believing class size is not a factor in his learning ability but that the performance of the teacher is.

“I think it is the teacher that determines how well a class is taught,” Thomas said. “If it is a good teacher teaching the class, it does not matter how many people are in the class — all of them are going to learn.”

No matter the size of classes, Smith believes that the school sufficiently provides students with the resources for a quality education.

“I would love to see more staffing come in but that does not come from me or the school district — that comes from the state and the federal government. I think if you ask any high school principal or any teacher, they would love to have smaller class sizes,” Smith said. “With that said, I still feel we do a great job working with our students and engaging kids no matter how many students we have in our class.”