Concerns raised with Ontario proposal to eliminate class size caps

SUDBURY—The president of the local Rainbow District School Board (RDSB) Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) has joined others who are panning a proposal by the provincial government to eliminate the class size cap in Kindergarten and primary classes.

“With respect to capping class sizes, as you know the ministry met education stakeholders (recently) to look at a way to help modernize the system. And they are looking at ways they can cut funding,” said Barb Blasutti, president of the Rainbow Teacher Local of the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario. “One of the things they want to discuss is eliminating the class size caps; this is a decision that if it takes place will take us backwards in the education system,” said Ms. Blasutti. 

The current class size cap in Kindergarten is 29 students, and the average of class sizes across any board can’t be more than 26. For the primary grades the cap is 23 students but at least 90 percent of classes in any board must have 20 or fewer students.

“These class size caps are large enough,” said Ms. Blasutti. “And right now they have a model where there are two educators in each class. They’re looking to reduce this.”

“The smaller class size makes a huge difference in an individual student’s instructional needs,” said Ms. Blasutti. “They can’t get this type of support when classes include 25-35 students.”

“Research shows class size is an important part of a students’ success,” continued Ms. Blasutti. “Obviously if a teacher has 20 students they get to know their students faster, and can provide more individual instruction when needed than a class of, say, 32 students. And younger students progress better; their skills and graduation rates are higher.”

“Small classes do make a difference,” stated Ms. Blasutti. “Even if there are 20 students in a class they all have special needs, and need individual attention. Scrapping the class size cap is not a good idea.”

Education Minister Lisa Thompson announced last week she is launching consultations with education partners on class sizes and teacher-hiring practices.

A government consultation document poses questions such as whether hard caps on class sizes should continue, and if they were removed, what would be an appropriate way to set effective class sizes.

“The province’s current fiscal circumstances require an examination of whether changes to class size would allow school boards to deliver better value for government investment,” the document says, noting that educator staffing costs make up about 80 percent of government funding to school boards.

Sam Hammond, president of the ETO of Ontario, said in a meeting with government officials it was made it clear they need to work toward balancing the budget.

“Given that, they’re going to have to make some difficult decisions and there’s no doubt that some of those decision are going to affect publicly funded education,” Mr. Hammond was quoted by the London Free Press in its January 23, 2019 edition as saying, adding that moving from hard caps to a system based on averages, “would be an absolute disaster.”

The government document says the ministry has heard in previous talks that implementing hard caps on class sizes is expensive and difficult for school boards to manage.

“It has been suggested that board-wide class size averages offer more flexibility for classroom organization and allows for more efficient use of board funds,” the document says.

The consultation is also looking at changes to teacher-hiring practices.

Official Opposition leader Andrea Horwath says more students will fall through the cracks if the province eliminates the cap on class size in Ontario schools, and she’s vowing to fight the move.

“Today, students often don’t get the one-on-one attention they deserve in the classroom,” said Ms. Horwath. “All kids deserve the big benefits of smaller class sizes, and that means we need more teachers, not fewer.”

“Classrooms are already crowded and if class sizes grow, teachers will be stretched even thinner,” said Ms. Horwath. “Behavioural challenges will become harder to control. Meeting the needs of multiple-learning ability levels will become even more difficult.”

“More students will fall through the cracks if class sizes get any bigger-—we can’t let Doug Ford do that to kids,” added Ms. Horwath.