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By Nancy Mitchell, Rocky Mountain News
February 23, 2006
A survey of more than 800 Denver teachers finds a growing number
of educators planning to leave the city's schools, reporting bulging
class sizes and ineffective instructional programs.
Results of the annual survey show 32.4 percent of teachers said they plan to leave Denver Public Schools, while 39.6 percent said they would do so for higher pay.
That compares with last year's finding that 10 percent of teachers selected the bubble "I am leaving DPS" on their survey forms and 30 percent said they would leave for more money.
The surveys, conducted by the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, don't ask teachers to list reasons for their answers. But union president Kim Ursetta said increasing class loads and decreasing school resources are frequently cited factors.
"We have fewer teachers and less resources, and we've been ordered to do the same jobs with higher accountability," said Ursetta, a bilingual elementary teacher on leave from Newlon Elementary in west Denver.
Survey results for the past three years show that class sizes in Denver schools are larger than ever, despite efforts to keep consecutive years of budget cuts from touching students.
Nearly one in three elementary teachers this school year report that 27 or more students regularly attend their classes. More than half of grade school teachers now report at least 25 pupils in their classrooms.
But middle school teachers report the largest classes by far. This year, 42 percent of middle school teachers say they average 30 students or more in their academic core classes.
Results of the surveys are not scientific. Forms are distributed to union members each year, and about a third usually respond. Ursetta said 812 of the union's 2,850 members responded this year. The union represents Denver's 4,100 teachers but not all are members.
Still, the results indicate trends. For example, it appears that middle and high school principals are trying to cope with tighter budgets by first increasing class sizes in electives courses such as art and music.
The percentage of middle and high school teachers reporting 35 or more students in such classes has more than doubled in the past three years. Growth in core academic classes has been slower.
DPS Superintendent Michael Bennet said he's directed his staff to collect data on class sizes this spring.
But in a recent round of school faculty meetings, "there wasn't a meeting where class size wasn't raised," he said. "It's also a concern I've heard from parents with students in the district and those who've taken their kids out of the district."
The first step is accurate data, he said, followed by figuring out how much it would cost to reduce class sizes and deciding where - which grades, which subjects - such dollars should be directed.
"If the school board and others decided that was the priority," Bennet said, "we'd need to figure out what we were going to stop funding in order to do that."
Survey results also show ongoing concerns about literacy and math programs adopted by the district. Elementary teachers say the programs are improving their students' reading and math skills but they don't like the writing component.
In middle and high schools, more teachers disagree than agree with statements that the programs are improving student skills in reading, writing and math.
Bennet pointed to plans to boost the basic-skills elements of the programs. He also said teachers are serving on work groups reviewing the literacy and math initiatives.
"We want this to be a place where people come to perfect their craft as teachers," he said. "We know we're a long way from that today but . . . I'm convinced we're going to be able to make it happen."
More than 800 Denver Public Schools teachers responded to a recent survey on a range of issues, including class sizes and the state of employee morale. Among the findings:
• Nearly one in three elemen- tary teachers report that 27 or more students regularly attend their classes this school year. Based on previous surveys, the number of elementary teachers reporting 25 or more students has hit its highest point in three years.
• Middle school teachers report the largest classes, with 42 percent saying they have 30 or more students in their core academic classes. Electives such as art and music are even more crowded, with 38 percent of middle school teachers reporting 35 or more students per class.
• High school teachers, in con- trast, have fewer students. Just one in four teachers say they have 30 or more students in their core academic classes and 18 percent report 35 or more students in electives courses.
• Middle and high school electives classes are growing rapidly.
The percentage of teachers reporting 35 or more students in such
courses has jumped from 12.5 percent in 2003-04 to 28.7 percent
this school year. The percentage reporting 35 or more students in
academic core classes has grown from 8.5 percent to 12.2 percent.Source:
Denver Classroom Teachers Association Surveys, 2004, 2005 And 2006
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