Growing School Sizes and the Problems They Bring

In 2013, my graduating class, the class of 2020, visited Lincoln Middle School (LMS) for the first time. We were in fifth grade at the time, and we were told about all the middle school had to offer. As we were leaving the building to return to our respective schools, Mr. Grow, the LMS principal, said we were going to be the largest class to ever go through LMS. However, with some minor fluctuation, class sizes have been growing ever since.

The middle school is experiencing an especially large boom. My brother, a 7th grader at Lincoln Middle School, remarked that there aren’t even enough lockers for each student. In a conversation I had with Mr. Grow, he informed me that new lockers, scheduled to be installed during Winter Break, had to be put in later due to time constraints. Yet, the addition of new lockers has addressed only one of several problems arising from the sheer number of students at LMS. Currently, there is one teacher at the school who must travel with a cart to different rooms for each of his classes because he doesn’t have a classroom of his own. Chaos in the hallways forced the school to change the schedule to accommodate the congestion, but these efforts were not completely successful.

Curious about the overall graduating class sizes, I contacted superintendent Bob Maxwell, and he revealed that over 700 students are attending the middle school this year. All the grades at the middle school, when added together, end up totaling over 700 students. 700 hundred people are attending the middle school this year. It’s not an exaggeration to say that these numbers are huge; the school is overflowing with students.

Surprisingly, even though the school is so full, the class sizes are fairly normal, with 24 students per classroom. It isn’t exactly a small class size, but it isn’t overflowing, which is important because as class sizes increase, students’ individual learning capacities decrease.

A study done from 1985-1989 shows this correlation in a drastic way. Project STAR randomly assigned 11,600 Tennessee students, from kindergarten through third grade, to three different class sizes. The small classes had 13-17 students in them, the medium 22-25, and the large classes had over 25 students. The average student that was assigned to the small class size had a reading score that was nearly eight percent higher than the average student in the medium sized classes; their math scores were nine percent higher than those in the medium classes as well. But the negative effects of class size didn’t stop with grades: educational economists Alan Krueger and Diane Schanzenbach calculated that reducing class sizes from 22 to 15 students increased students’ annual benefits by five and a half percent.

Current classroom sizes aren’t as huge of a problem as I originally believed. However, if class size was to decrease, students may have a better education experience. Pullman School District is a highly academic district; it holds the 12th position out of the 250 school districts in Washington State based on test scores (full statistics here). If one was to decrease class sizes, then LMS may have higher test scores, but since it’s already such a successful district, it isn’t necessary. Since class sizes turned out to be decent, I began to question if adding classrooms was actually necessary.

Conceptual design of the future Kamiak Elementary School (Photo Credit: Walker Construction)

As I thought about this, though, I realized that the city of Pullman is growing as a whole. Current class sizes at the elementary schools are bound to follow this trend as more families move here over time. In the last four years alone, Pullman’s population has increased by almost two thousand people. Moreover, job growth is predicted to be 40.3%, which is higher than the US national average. As job opportunities increase, more people will move to the Pullman area, and as time goes on, some of those people will remain in Pullman to start families. Others will move to Pullman with families. It is undeniable that Pullman is an ever-growing city, and as it grows, Pullman School District will grow along with it.

Although adding several classrooms would be an ideal solution, it isn’t feasible for the here and now. Looking forward, however, adding more classes is going to be a necessary action. Looking at how long it is taking to construct Kamiak Elementary and how long it took to build the High School compared to the growth rate of our schools, it would be smart to begin looking into the possibilities as quickly as possible.

There are several different actions that can be taken to add more classrooms. One is adding portable classrooms outside in the parking lot. I asked the superintendent to share his thoughts on this idea, and he said he believed this wouldn’t be a good idea as the price of portables is extremely expensive and would only deal with the ever-growing school district in the short term. It would also complicate the process of getting from one class to another for students.

So far, nothing is being planned for the middle school, but the school board is discussing possibilities of adding extensions onto the middle school. For any additions to happen, however, a long list of other tasks must be considered first. Superintendent Bob Maxwell informed me that an architect must be brought in to draw up plans and give an anticipated cost first. The board would use that estimated cost to determine if they need to run a bond. This would obviously increase taxes in Pullman. A tax increase may be too much to bear on top of the tax fatigue because of the new high school and the current building of Kamiak Elementary School. If an addition was approved and construction was to begin, more teachers would have to be hired to fill the jobs and rooms, which would be even more expensive.

Although additions to the middle school will be expensive, they will become almost necessary for students to be able to learn well and to maintain good teacher-student relationships in the midst of an ever-growing student population. The middle school is being filled to the brim with students; there are not even enough rooms for every teacher, and although the current middle school situation may have worked thus long, cramming increasing numbers of students in it year after year isn’t ideal or conducive to learning.

Emma Pagels