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Illinois teachers strongly oppose proposal for bigger special ed classes

January 15, 2014

Illinois teachers strongly oppose proposal for bigger special ed classes
Parents and teachers from IFT, IEA, & CTU unite against State Board of Education plan to remove class size protections for students with disabilities

CHICAGO – Today, Illinois’ largest teachers unions came out in strong opposition to a proposal from the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) to remove class size protections for student with disabilities. With this change, school districts could reduce staff and increase the number of special education students in every classroom. The measure is expected to be voted on at ISBE’s meeting on January 22.
ISBE’s proposal – formally known as changes to state administrative rule Part 226 – would mean no statewide limits on special education class sizes, no statewide limits on the percentage of students with disabilities that can be placed in a general education class, and no state requirements that some special education class sizes require a paraprofessional be assigned to the class.
"When classes are overcrowded and understaffed, all students suffer because they can’t get the attention they need,” said Dan Montgomery, a high school English teacher of 20 years and President of the Illinois Federation of Teachers. “With continued cuts to public education, it’s irresponsible to make it even harder for students, particularly those with special needs, to succeed. Anyone who has ever stepped into a classroom understands this, and we need to remind the State Board of Education that their continued push for this proposal would be devastating for our kids."
This is not ISBE’s first attempt to pack more students into Illinois classrooms. The Board announced its intention to remove all state requirements on class size for students with special needs in February 2013, and voted unanimously to solicit public feedback. They received more than 5,000 comments, 93% of which opposed the plan. Despite the overwhelming public opinion, ISBE is pursuing the proposal again.

Last spring, Chicago Public Schools argued against compelling research to the contrary, stating that big classes don’t hamper learning, and suggested putting 40 kids in a classroom.
“The state and local districts cannot and should not balance their budgets on the backs of our most vulnerable students,” said Chicago Teachers Union Financial Secretary Kristine Mayle, who is also a special education teacher. “ISBE has been disingenuous for the reasons of these proposed changes, saying that it’s about protecting students when it will wind up hurting hundreds of thousands of our children across Illinois. Special education students need one-on-one attention, smaller groups to learn in and instruction that is tailored to their specific needs. This rule will prevent that in both special education and general education classrooms alike.”
Illinois schools have no more than 30% special education students per class (known as the “70-30” rule). A higher special education ratio makes teaching and learning more challenging. ISBE’s proposal would allow school administrators to set whatever ratio they want. In general education classrooms, where there are no statewide restrictions on overall class size, classes have grown larger due to desperate financial straits and cuts to public school funding.
"The elimination of this rule could be the worst thing to happen to our students in many years," said IEA President Cinda Klickna, who spent more than 30 years as an English teacher. "We can¹t continue to pile more obstacles in the path of teachers who want to help all students realize their potential. For the good of the students, the State Board must reject this proposal."
Presidents Montgomery (IFT) and Klickna (IEA) sent a letter to ISBE earlier in the week, which can be found here.
The federal "Individuals with Disabilities Education Act" (IDEA) requires that students identified for special education be provided with a free, appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment. IDEA does not address class size guidelines for special education, so if Illinois eliminates these protections, there will be none in place.
The Institute of Education Sciences, a respected research arm of the U.S. Department of Education, concludes that class size reduction is one of only four, evidence-based reforms that have been proven to increase student achievement.
Other studies have similarly shown that students who are assigned to smaller classes in early grades do better in every measurable way, including higher test scores, better grades, and improved attendance, as well as non-cognitive skills not captured by testing, like persistence, motivation, and self-esteem. Alan Krueger, Chairman of the Council on Economic Advisers, has estimated that every dollar invested in reducing class size yields about $2 in benefits.
The unions’ “Class Size Matters” campaign is encouraging teachers, parents, and concerned citizens to contact the State Board of Education and legislators to remind them that “big classes are a big mistake.” An overwhelming number of concerned citizens have already responded on social media. Those interested in getting involved in the online campaign can do so by following the hashtag #ClassSizeMatters.
If the proposal passes at ISBE’s January 22 meeting, it will go to the General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR) for consideration.

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About IFT:
The Illinois Federation of Teachers represents 103,000 teachers and paraprofessionals in PreK-12 school districts throughout Illinois, faculty and staff at Illinois’ community colleges and universities, public employees under every statewide elected constitutional officer, and retirees. The Chicago Teachers Union, Local 1, is an affiliate of the IFT and the largest local teachers union in Illinois.




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