Number of Students per Teacher Hits Record in Oregon

, Posted: Mon, December 2 2013 at 5:35 PM, Updated: Mon, December 2 2013 at 6:25 PM

Oregon's education system is making it into the record books, but it's not for something to be proud of. According to the Oregon Department of Education, the state has hit the highest number of students per teacher in the state's recorded history.

For Central High School science teacher Brian Corbett, big class sizes are something he and other teachers are all too familiar with.

"My class sizes range from 25 to 36," said Corbett.

That's more than the state average, which this past school year, was at about 23 kids per teacher for high school. It's the highest number in the state's history. For middle school the average was roughly 22 kids per teacher and in the elementary bracket it was 21.4 kids. That data was taken from the Oregon Department of Education.

The state numbers are also higher than the national average of roughly 16 kids for every instructor. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the most recent numbers are from 2010.

Corbett said for his Central High in particular, large class sizes play a big role because it's where kids who did not do well in other schools end up.

"If you look at the students at our school here, a lot of them come here because the class sizes at the other schools are so large that they become a face in the crowd. A lot of students need to be more than a face in a crowd," he said.

Big class sizes are a problem for teachers trying to help students succeed.

"It leaves less time for one on one, less time to help those students who are straggling."

It also makes it more difficult for teachers to develop a meaningful, personal relationship with students.

"When you think of some of the bigger schools seeing upwards of 230 kids every single day and you're seeing those kids an average of one hour per day as they come through, that's a lot of students," said Corbett.

Teachers are being given a hard job, especially when standards have never been higher.

"We've had cuts and [had to] do more with less," began Todd Bloomquist, Secondary Education Director for the Medford School District.

"You have higher standards than we've ever had in our time or in anyone else's time."

According to Bloomquist, the bad economy doesn't help reduce class sizes either.

"Soon as people go out of work, they're not paying taxes [...] There's no money to go into the state coffers," he said.

Bloomquist said one solution might be changing the current taxing model.

"When your stat is 50% or so owned by federal forest kinds of things, there's not a tax structure there," said Bloomquist.

"If you go back east where 93% or 97% of the land is owned by taxpayers, there's a lot more money to deal with there," he continued.

However, changing Oregon's tax structure doesn't look like it'll be happening anytime soon.

Since there's no easy solution to the problem, the Medford School District is getting help from community organizations like Kids Unlimited and the YMCA. Various organizations are offering a helping hand with tutoring and after-school care.

In the meantime, teachers like Corbett are working harder and trying to be more creative in the way they're teaching students.

"We have to find new ways to really keep all these students coming and being successful," said Corbett.

He'll be continuing to do things like meet with students before school and during lunch.

"Lunches are pretty much gone. Most of the time I will spend a lot of my lunch in here with students, helping them. Or i'll be out in the commons where they're eating so I can help build more of those relationships with them," Corbett explained.

There is a bit of a bright spot though. Bloomquist said the Governor John Kitzhaber's push for education and promise of more money is helping to reduce class sizes for the time being.

When it comes to funding for the next school year though, school districts won't know how much money they'll be getting until May.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the number of students per teacher has declined nationally. However, in Oregon over the last handful of years, it's steadily climbed.

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