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Valley parents worry about large online classroom sizes

Online learning
Posted at 4:47 PM, Sep 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-09 20:47:38-04

CHANDLER, AZ — Virtual learning has proven to be challenging for teachers and students who are used to having in-person instruction, but for some, class size is becoming an added obstacle.

Amanda Stewart's oldest daughter Abby started the year in the Chandler Unified School District with the Chandler Online Academy.

Stewart said there were 64 kids in the third-grader's class.

"It was crazy, I did not expect it to be like that. I thought there would have more teachers so the class would be smaller," said Stewart. "Like the teacher can't see everybody at one time so not everyone gets called on to answer questions. It took forever to get through everything."

She said that led to a lot of self-instruction and not enough engagement with the teacher. Stewart decided to pull her daughter from the online academy and switch her to in-person learning, which should start in a couple of weeks.

"I felt for the teachers because it felt like they were thrown in there--like 'Here are some online courses and let's see how everything works.' Throwing them into the deep end. That's not fair to the teachers, that's not fair for the students," said Stewart.

ABC15 has heard from teachers and parents that said large online classrooms are also an issue at Gilbert Public Schools.

Valerie Lim has two daughters in the district learning through the GPS Global Academy. She said her first-grader has 70 kids in her class and her fourth-grader has more than 50 students.

State Superintendent Kathy Hoffman said in a statement that Arizona had a teacher shortage that led to overcrowded classrooms before COVID-19 and that now, there is an even greater impact on the teachers in the state.

"While data is still lagging, I have anecdotally heard many examples of teachers choosing to leave the field because of COVID-19. While good work has been done to fill the need for teachers in the field it is not enough. I am deeply concerned about our critical teacher shortage, worsened by COVID-19, that continues to create larger classrooms whether those classrooms are virtual or in-person."

A spokesperson for Gilbert Public Schools said GPS Global Academy said when they first began, class sizes were bigger due to the large number of students moving from in-person to online. The district moved more teachers to the Global Academy and hired new teachers to address the large classrooms.

As of Wednesday, the district said the largest online class has 48 students for synchronous learning.

"An online delivery model is based on students working both synchronous (teacher-led) and asynchronous (independently). This is a fundamental difference between in-person and online learning, and it is this difference that creates the larger numbers of students allocated to one teacher than in the in-person model, as online teachers have time available to teach more students due to the amount of asynchronous learning in each student’s schedule.

Our GPS Global Academy teachers’ schedules provide time in the day for teachers to deliver live lessons online with their student cohort groups on identified days, work 1:1 with students, and also in additional small group sessions on other days."

Chandler Unified School District Wednesday was not able to provide more information about its classroom sizes, but a spokesperson said the Chandler Online Academy by design has bigger class sizes than virtual or in-person.