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Legislative Memo

Memo: NSEA Supports Assembly Bill 266

NSEA supports AB266, advancing work on one of Nevada’s most intractable public education issues, large class sizes.
Published: 04/06/2021

Common sense tells us—and research confirms it—that the number of students in a class makes a real difference for students and teachers alike. The issue of large class sizes remains one of the most frustrating issues for Nevada educators, students, parents, and school communities. Nevada continues to have the largest student-to-teacher ratio in the country. While rapid growth fueled the problem in previous decades, the lack of sufficient funding for school districts is the main reason Nevada ranks dead last in the country.

Meanwhile, we know smaller class size has real benefits. For students, smaller class size can help close the racial achievement gap, lead to earlier identification of learning disabilities, improve high school graduation rates, improve student behavior, and allow for more engagement in lessons. For educators, smaller class size improves educator morale as it allows for more individual and differentiated instruction, less time on paperwork, and stronger classroom management as teachers become more aware of individual students’ strengths or weaknesses.

NSEA supported AB304 last session requiring recommendations for teacher-pupil ratios. AB266 will ensure a count that more accurately reflects the realities of Nevada’s classrooms. AB266 moves Nevada toward actively addressing overcrowded classrooms by requiring school boards to determine the number of job vacancies based on how many teachers are needed in order to achieve the recommended ratio of pupils per licensed teacher.

Finally, NSEA has also long been engaged in ensuring teacher evaluations are fair measures of a teacher’s performance. Teachers with overcrowded classrooms have a disadvantage in their evaluations, through no fault of their own. The double whammy of overcrowded class sizes, combined with punitive evaluation measures is too much for many educators who instead opt to leave the profession. Providing a legislative fix to this issue is not just a matter of fairness but it also would help address the issue of teacher retention.

Member Testimony: Harry Beall

Good afternoon. My name is Harry Beall. I reside in Nevada State Assembly District 3 and in Nevada State Senate District 3. I am a retired Clark County School District English, journalism, and broadcasting instructor speaking in strong support of AB266.

I know first-hand the feelings of job burn-out and job frustration because of the ridiculously high class sizes ratios in the Clark County school district. Everyone knows we have had the largest class sizes in the nation in recent years. New teachers who want to help their students learn are frustrated by the hours and hours of grading they have to do after classroom instruction and the fact that large class sizes make one-on-one or even small group teaching much more difficult.

I often saw more experienced teachers cutting educational corners, shortening or eliminating some of their assignments and tests and effectively short-changing their students in the process. The teachers had not become lazy. They just needed to cut back to survive. Believe me, teacher burnout is very real.

As an English teacher, I worked at least a 12-hour day, every day, Monday through Friday, teaching then grading tests and essays. During the weekend, I devoted eight to 10 hours to teaching – either in grading or in lesson plans. I sleep only four to five hours each night; otherwise, I may have left teaching myself.

I hate to use the word “cheat” but that’s what schools do when they average their class size ratios with the low numbers of students in special education or other classes. SB266 would stop that policy and present transparency in real class size numbers and accurate student-teacher ratios. The public would also be able to know whether those instructing our students are licensed or whether they have been hired to fill vacancies and have only provisional qualifications.

This bill was drafted by educators. Listen to them when they tell you why it important to pass it. And listen to me and to the other educators you have heard today about why class size reduction is so vitally important. This bill needs to become law.

Member Testimony: Phil Kaiser

Good afternoon members of the Assembly Education Committee, my name is Phil Kaiser, and I am a teacher in Washoe County, and the president of the Washoe Education Association.

I am speaking in support of AB266, Assemblywoman Brittney Miller’s bill on class size/student loads.

We are all aware that Nevada ranks at the top of the nation in class size. But the current structure for determining class size may significantly under-represent the actual workload of educators. Undoubtedly, this results in some students not getting what they need, educators and schools not receiving the evaluations that are appropriate, and likely results in more educators leaving education, making our shortages worse.

Nevada has sought to limit class sizes for decades, in order to lay the foundation for success. However, the guidelines set by the state Department of Education are non-binding recommendations, and the funding to achieve these goals has never been adequate. So, in a nutshell, Nevada has never really implemented class-size reduction as intended.

Furthermore, it is not just the number of students per educator, but the needs of the students. Recently, I spoke to a second-grade teacher who has a class close to the recommended limits but included in that number are 10 students with IEPS, and 6 who are English Learners. Think about trying to implement the appropriate accommodations for the students. Think about planning and preparation to make sure the students get what they need to learn. The workload on the teacher is much greater than the numbers by themselves would indicate. So, one weakness of the data on class size is that it under-represents the actual workload. And if a teacher is responsible for a class exceeding the recommended ratios, the teacher should get additional credit on her evaluation.

The state needs to more accurately report not just the class size/pupil-teacher ratios, but also more accurately assess the workloads that educators face, and then adequately fund according to the needs of our students. Let’s post the number of full-time subs and include that in the number of vacant positions. Let’s publish the number of educators that would be needed if the actual class-size recommendations were being met. That would help give a more accurate measure of the situation, and potentially provide policymakers the information needed to help solve the problem.

I urge you to support AB266. It would put Nevada on a path to more accurately determine the workload of educators, reflect that in evaluations, and help us better address the needs of our students.

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