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Red for Ed hoped to improve teacher-student ratio, 3 years later Arizona still among worst in nation

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Posted at 4:00 AM, Apr 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-06 22:29:44-04

PHOENIX — During the Red for Ed movement that gained momentum in 2018, one of the big asks of the thousands of marchers who took their plight to the capitol was to see smaller class sizes in Arizona public schools.

“I feel like we are still in the same spot that we were in 2018, and possibly worse,” says high school teacher Katie Nash. She is the president of her teacher’s union in the East Valley.

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The National Center for Education Statistics ranks schools on a yearly basis. The last ranking available is 2018.

That year, Arizona was shown to have 23.5 students for every teacher, slightly over California at 23 students per teacher. The national average is 16 students for every teacher.

"If I could talk to Governor Ducey, ironically three years ago yesterday I was up at the capitol at his office, I would tell him, ‘please stop calling yourself the education governor,'” says Nash.

Back then, Gov. Ducey promised raising teacher pay by 20 percent by 2020 would improve teaching conditions in Arizona. He created a teacher’s academy, which would incentivize individuals to go into the teaching profession. In the long run, this should have resulted in a better student-teacher ratio, but Nash believes things haven’t progressed.

“We know that it didn’t improve and instead he (Gov. Ducey) focused on the privatization of public education, expansion of vouchers, tax credits, STOs and, that’s not public education,” added Nash.

It’s important to mention that Nash teaches in the International Baccalaureate program at Chandler High School and therefore, has smaller class sizes. She signals that her class size, roughly 15 students, is the exception.

“Specifically for our general education students, they are the ones that need the attention the most and they are the ones that have the biggest classes. Classes as big as 35 to 40, that’s not uncommon,” she adds.

Ideally, general education classes in high schools should be at around 20 to 25 students.

“We are not as a state having that conversation on a broad enough level,” says State Senator Christine Marsh, a newly-elected state legislator who happens to also be a teacher.

Marsh made class size investigation a priority in this legislative session, introducing SB 1227, which would have created a task force to get class-size data by grade and subjects.

"I’m a teacher, so to me it’s a fact that they need to be lower. We're among the highest in the nation,” adds Marsh.

Her bill sat on Senate President Fann’s desk and never made it anywhere further than that.

"The little exposure it got in the senate education committee I think at least started that conversation, and I will of course run some variation again next session,” adds Marsh.

Marsh believes Arizona legislators, and education leaders as a whole, have little information about what is truly happening in Arizona schools as far as class size are concerned. Her task force bill would have shed light on where the current discrepancies are occurring.

“I believe that our K-3 grade classrooms are even, pretty much across the state, and are at a rather low number, and that our high schools are busting at the seams. But the key to that entire couple of sentences is that, 'I believe.' This bill would have started that exploration and gotten some of those answers for us,” adds Marsh.

Educator Katie Nash does admit that COVID-19 did bring smaller class sizes because so many students went to school either online or sought other educational options, like home schooling. The reality she says, is that the return to normal will only drive some of those students back into the classroom and the ratio will remain what it’s been for the last decade.

“Some of us [teachers] are kind of enjoying those smaller class sizes because you are able to connect with those students a lot more easily. But, we know this reality is going to smack us back up in the face next year when we have our class sizes back up to where they have been previously,” warns Nash.