With negotiations in the San Ramon Valley Unified School District heating up, I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on the current budget crisis. As a high school senior going on to college next year, my perspective is unique and not exactly representative of any one interest group in particular.
One of the most relevant consequences of the budget shortfall for high school students is the class size increases. High school freshmen will see more students in their English and algebra classes next year with the student-to-teacher ratio climbing from an average 22:1 to 30:1. How will this change affect the learning environment? From my experience, smaller class sizes are especially beneficial to the way English classes run, although math classes also benefit from increased student attention and improved class discipline.
In English classes, for example, students are often expected to participate in discussions pertaining to a novel being studied by the entire class. Not only do students logically have a better chance to participate in these discussions with fewer involved, but students are less intimidated to speak up when surrounded with 20 of their peers instead of 30. Furthermore, more students means more work to grade. English teachers will have no choice but to scale back on the number of assignments, especially analytical writing assignments that can’t be graded with a Scantron machine.
On the other hand, math is not typically a discussion-based subject. However, any teacher would admit that smaller classes are far easier to control. I help with freshmen advisory at my school and I know that in general, high school freshmen are a jumpy group of kids. Perhaps it is the adjusting to high school that makes them this way, or perhaps it is just their nature. Either way, ninth-grade teachers have to deal with discipline issues in their classrooms that divert precious time away from their lesson plans.
Every incoming freshman is placed into a section of English 9. At San Ramon Valley High School and Monte Vista High School there are no Advanced, Honors, or Advanced Placement English classes available for freshmen. The academically driven student who listens to his or her teacher is placed in the same classroom as the 14-year old juvenile probationer.
And let’s face it––some students just don’t want to learn. They want to please their peers more than their teachers. They don’t explain success as the result of hard work, but by their sheer luck, connections or innate ability. And they see the whole schooling process as irrelevant to their lives and futures. This combination of behaviors creates a volatile learning environment in some classrooms. Consequently, an increase in classroom sizes at this level will only exacerbate behavior problems and detract from the quality of learning. From a student’s point of view, the importance of freshmen English and especially Algebra I in the foundation of a high school education cannot be overstated.
Then there are the potential cuts to programs such as electives, libraries, counseling services and sports, to name just a few. The journalism program at my school may be one of these programs to go. But school newspapers continue to be valuable hallmarks of our democracy, widely read by students, staff and parents alike. Counselors may be pink-slipped. But you can’t go crying to the Internet when you’ve had your letter of admission rescinded by a college. Unlike with the certainty of class size increases, we don’t know yet what program cuts will be made. But these changes would certainly have a very direct impact on the day-to-day lives of students as well.
Talking with some of the teachers and staff at my high school, I’ve come to realize just how complex our current financial situation is. Neither Mr. Enoch, the superintendent, nor the teacher unions want to see the San Ramon Valley Unified School District become insolvent. The SRVEA does not want to appear intractable to making compromises, but the union does need more information than a projected $30 million two-year budget deficit on which to base their concessions. The real numbers and the actual deficit will likely not be known until September.
The teachers, administrators and support staff I know are good people. The same is true for those on the other side of the bargaining table. We, as members of our community, are all trying to do what we think is best for our children’s education. And we are all facing difficult times, even though we are comparatively fortunate to live in the San Ramon Valley. These things we share in common must be the beginning point of our public discourse on the budget crisis, although our perspectives diverge widely from there.
The Teen Wire provides a perspective on today's youth in the face of a changing world. Daniel Morizono, a senior at San Ramon Valley High School and news editor of the Wolfprint can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.