1. Gradebook

Florida class size violations rise as school districts struggle with teacher shortfall

Some students and teachers continue to complain about crowding, despite formal compliance with the 2002 amendment

The number of Florida classrooms and schools failing to meet the state’s 2002 class-size rules jumped in 2018, despite a growing number of districts taking advantage of a loophole allowing them to use school-wide averages rather than classroom counts.

According to the Department of Education, 474 of 18,755 traditional classrooms missed the mark in the fall count — most of them in Polk and Hendry counties. That compares to 153 out of 49,287 traditional classrooms out of compliance a year earlier.

Even districts using a more liberal rule that lets them apply averages to their “schools of choice,” a program implemented by lawmakers in 2013, had slightly increased problems. This fall, 18 of 2,873 “choice” schools — 0.6 percent — violated the rules of 18 students in K-3 classes, 22 in grades 4-8 and 25 in high school.

A year ago, 14 schools of 2,715 — 0.5 percent — fell short of the goal.

(Note, though, that 158 more schools were now classified as “choice” campuses, leading the number of traditional classrooms subject to a count rather than an average to shrink by 30,532.)

Among charter schools, which also must meet only school-wide averages, 8 did not hit the target, compared to 13 last year.

Overall, just a small fraction of students were affected by the formal violations — fewer than 2,000 in all. Still, students and teachers from around the Tampa Bay region, where schools were found to be in full compliance, have reported facing problems as their campuses struggled to fill teaching vacancies and some classes were combined.

Fivay High students documented their cramped conditions on video back in October, before the school hired all its needed math teachers. Pinellas County high school economics teacher Dan Dunavin recently told the Gradebook via email that many teachers think the class size amendment has been repealed, they have so many large classes.

Both Pasco and Pinellas counties use the “schools of choice” model, and had no formal violations.

“I wonder how many high school teachers have only 25 students?” he wrote. “Ask a few teachers - I think you will [be] surprised.”

The state counts only “core” courses toward the class-size mandate. That means subjects such as art and physical education are not part of the equation.

Neither are courses that generate college credit, such as Advanced Placement, which many high schools emphasize. With those definitions, lawmakers significantly reduced the number of affected classes, despite the intentions of voters who imposed the rule and rejected changes to it when asked.