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Arizona class sizes still among the largest 3 years after Red for Ed

Teachers crowd the lobby of the Arizona Senate as Arizona legislature debate a budget negotiated by majority Republicans and GOP Gov. Doug Ducey Thursday, May 3, 2018, at the Capitol in Phoenix. The budget gives teachers big raises but falls short of their demands for better school funding. The teachers, in the sixth day of walk outs, have agreed to return to the classroom once the budget has been approved by the legislature.(AP Photo/Matt York)

PHOENIX — Three years after thousands of Arizona teachers rallied at the state capitol, Arizona continues to have some of the nation’s largest class sizes.

“I think in the three years since Red for Ed, potentially there’s been a dent,” State Sen. Christine Marsh, who’s also a teacher, told KTAR News 92.3 FM, referring to class sizes. “But we were so far in the hole, and we are still in the hole.”

The latest data by the National Center for Education Statistics shows Arizona had the highest average class size at 23.5 students, while the national average was 16 students.

Marsh said the problem with those averages is that it includes special education classes and gifted classes, which might only have a handful of students. So she said it’s hard to know exactly how large most class sizes are because “we don’t have any disaggregated data.”

The newly-elected state senator, who also happens to be the 2016 Teacher of the Year, introduced a bill this legislative session to try to address that issue.

“We know that we have among the largest class sizes in the entire nation,” Marsh said. “But we don’t have a breakdown of exactly what it looks like at each grade level or within specific subject areas or anything like that.”

Her bill, SB 1227, would’ve created a study committee to explore those issues. It sought to determine an appropriate class size, identify methods of reducing class sizes, determine the cost of those methods and identify how reducing class sizes is possible using existing facilities and class spaces.

The bill passed the Senate Education Committee but went nowhere after that.

Marsh said she also believes very little progress has been made when it comes to the state’s teacher shortage.

“We still desperately need to attract and retain teachers,” she said. “We still have a teacher shortage of crisis proportions.”

The most recent survey by the Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association shows nearly three-quarters of Arizona’s teacher positions remained vacant or were filled by people who didn’t meet the state’s standard certification requirements.

Marsh said the good news is “as a state we are talking about this issue more than we have in the past.”

“I think the Red for Ed movement from three years ago raised awareness of this issue,” she added.

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