Oh, Elmbrook, there you go again

What is it with this school district and their myopic goals from administration? Obviously, a sincere goal is to increase class sizes in the high schools. Superintendent Matt Gibson tried during the Next Steps meetings to get bigger classrooms. The committee rejected his plan. Now he’s wanting to stuff more students in the smaller rooms anyway.

Tomorrow night is a board meeting. As part of that meeting there will be a recap of the listening sessions. The memo from Superintendent Matt Gibson reveals the discussion on class sizes on page 5. Three bullets are listed:

–If class size is increased, consider larger class size in high school.
–Would rather see larger class size in high school than combining offerings at one high school.
–Would rather see increased class size than reduction/elimination of programs.

You won’t see my comment anywhere in his report. I ask: “How does the board reconcile an increase in class sizes with marketing the schools?”

Elmbrook high school students, your core classes will be getting larger. You will have less time with each instructor. You may have to leave class with unanswered questions.

Your Superintendent thinks that’s all right.

You all just run out there and be mediocre. Ok? Those smart kids need special classes and yours just don’t count. Such is life.


  1. Kathryn says:

    We have smart kids in abundance. Compare our mean SAT or ACT scores to the national means for those tests. Check out the census demographics on the educational level of adults in this community and compare that to the national norms. Consider the occupations of adults in this community–many of them are in fields that correspond to an average IQ of about 130.

    I agree with you on the trend toward mediocrity, and there are a lot of reasons for it, but it isn’t being driven by smart kids or even by gifted kids. We have a unique community with some unique needs. “Smart” isn’t a wedge issue, it’s the norm.

  2. Smart is the norm. The “average” smart kid in Elmbrook will be sitting in classes of 30 students. It’s hard to learn that way. Period.

  3. Kathryn says:


  4. El gato says:

    I’m curious as to what has changed since I went to school and class sizes were always about 30, and the curriculum wasn’t full of the meaningless drivel of today. We studied real subjects, had homework, and were failed if we needed to fail. When I watched Jay Leno’s “Jaywalking” and saw the general ignorance of college students, it was obvious that public education isn’t what it used to be. Class size isn’t the problem…it’s teacher qualifications, curriculum, and expectations!

  5. Kathryn says:

    Those are all factors. Leno is not the last word on education–broadcasting the kids who know the answers wouldn’t be funny!–but it may be indicative of a general shift in society.

    We Americans have a long streak of anti-intellectualism, and lately it has turned into pursuit of the lowest common denominator–especially for men. (Consider movies. Animal House was supposed to be funny because it was shocking. It isn’t unexpected anymore.) In terms of popular culture anyone who shows social-emotional development after, say, age 14 is suspected of being none too masculine. I don’t think that is particularly a problem in Elmbrook, but it does speak to the issue of expectations in our country.

  6. I’m not as old as El Gato, but I’ve run a couple of laps. I don’t remember my classes being that large.

    I spent a lot of time in classrooms with the kids when they were little. 24 still seemed like a lot. I had a Girl Scout troop with 25 and thought I’d lost my mind. (We did an aerodynamics thing with balloons taped to straws and flown on strings…OK. Maybe I am nuts. I remember feeling glad to be alive after it was all over.)

    Just because students get older doesn’t mean we should increase the number of them to one educator. The material becomes more difficult. The students’ lives become more difficult. They still deserve the attention they received at six – even when sometimes they don’t want it.

  7. El gato says:

    One great advantage when I was in school…1944 to 1956…was that students behaved and it wasn’t so hard for the teacher to present the material. I went to Washington High when it was one of the top rated high schools in Wisconsin and when a teacher said “jump”, one only asked “how high”…if they even dared ask. I served many a 9th hour for passing notes to a girl. Believe me, even I served them! Students now are too out of control and I can’t imagine how a teacher stands it. We need more discipline in schools and parents should stop standing up for their naughty kids.

  8. You’ll still find 25% of Elmbrook students asking “how high.”

    But then, I’m so old that if you stepped out of line you were sent to the principals office for swats. Our grade school principal used his own “board of education” that he hung on the wall. No, really, that’s what was burned into the paddle.

  9. Anthony says:

    Here are counts of how many kids are in each of my classes
    Spanish 2 – 28
    English 9 – 24
    World History – 17
    Gym – 30
    Algebra 1 – 20
    Biology – 29

    Ironically, my best subject is World History. So I do believe class sizes matter.

  10. Anthony – thanks for that. So we’re already hitting higher numbers, but no one will admit it? Gym I can understand, but Biology and Spanish? No way.

    Matt Gibson, please explain. You want classes to be even larger than this Freshman offering?

  11. Whatever says:

    I agree. Class sizes should be cut. No bigger than 25 for core classes. 20 for special ed, foreign language, and AP. Ask the district to start posting the job openings now and don’t forget about the huge tax increase that will be needed to pay for all of this. Or start cutting all the “extras”: music, sports, debate, forensics, student council…

  12. There needs to be a balance between the extras and the class sizes, not a giving into the class sizes as Matt Gibson is advocating.

    But I have a feeling balance isn’t one of your strong suits, Whatever.

  13. Kathryn says:

    The class sizes Anthony describes are not new (where have you been, C?) What I’m wondering is how he got World History with only 17. I understood that one gets packed to the rafters sometimes.

  14. I’ve heard of it before, and it was brought up at the listening session. The public isn’t aware, though, and certainly those parents with children heading to high school don’t know it. The district can tout lower averages because of the smaller specialty classes.

    The youngest has complained about classrooms without enough desks, having to work sideways at a bookcase, etc. And they want to market Elmbrook as a great district? Back to my original point: Just how will the board reconcile that?

    I’ve also heard private/parochial schools can offer the specialties, keep class sizes low, and educate a student for less than our cost per student.

  15. The Lorax says:

    All work and no play! I kinda missed out on this conversation, but I will say this: 30 kids in a biology class makes doing labs nearly impossible.

    This got me to thinking, are they trying to ramp up class sizes as an ex post facto way to demonstrate how badly we need new science class rooms? In other words, are they trying to cover their butts?

    Let’s also talk about something that really affects class sizes: scheduling. If we went to block scheduling, we could really control class sizes which are hard to control because of scheduling.

    Consider this, as a senior i had basically the same schedule as most of the “AP kids” because band and orchestra were two hours which meant there could not be an AP class that hour because kids wanted both. AP Bio and AP Enviro got the same hour because they were least likely to conflict.

    The result was that some classes just HAD to be huge and some HAD to be small because of the way the schedule works.

  16. Kathryn says:

    The guidance depts. would have told anyone who was interested. I knew before sending one off to high school. Elementary classes are getting bigger, too.

    Yes, maybe the public is not aware of it, but it’s no secret. It’s been a topic of discussion for several months now, was included in the original budget studies, was probably a topic of discussion in earlier listening sessions for years one and two (?) and it’s been discussed in board meetings. A lot of stuff never gets into the newspapers. That’s why we read you!

  17. The Lorax says:

    We also have to face the reality that small class sizes are sheltering them from becoming acquainted to and prepared for the large classes we encounter in our postsecondary education.

  18. I personally think this whole thing being proposed by Gibson is the biggest bunch of crap ever.
    My English teacher currently has 2 10B Honors classes (Research paper class pretty much) Her 1st hour class has 27 kids. Her 8th hour (the one i am in) has 15. Guess which class got to conference with her every single day about their research paper?
    8th hour.
    Guess what class got the higher overall average on their research paper.
    8th Hour.

    And what about that whole new rule about “5 Day drop” where you can only drop down from an honors or AP class in the first 5 days of the school year instead of last’s year 15 (By mid-term). All Gibson is doing is giving less options to the students. It sucks! You can’t know how hard a course is in 5 days.

    When does this guy leave office again?

    And Lorax-
    Please don’t throw the “We need to prepare you for college” card at us. Senior year, go ahead and cram 30, 40 of us in a room together. I’ll prepare for college then. When i’m a freshman, sophomore, and Jr. I’m not worried about what college is like, i’m focusing on what high school is like ( and how to get into college)

  19. The Lorax says:

    I wasn’t suggesting we do that, Joe. But it is a relevant question–how seamless we make the transition.

    And, to be worried about getting into college but unworried about what it will be like is foolish.

    Again, the imbalance between the two classes demonstrates beautifully my point about how part of the issue here is scheduling. Surely the devil’s in the details. Gibson is lackluster at best but right now, Joe, I’m not concerned with tearing him down. He’s accomplished that on his own.

  20. Whatever says:

    What are the other proposals besides class size? Block scheduling is something that needs to be explored. How about virtual offerings? A blend of virtual and traditional?

  21. Whatever, the link to his document is above. I recall seeing something about rescheduling the 8th grade, but nothing about block scheduling for the high school. (Someone be a good reader and describe this please? I don’t thing I get it, either.)

    Virtual offerings aren’t being discussed for regular high school students, but there is a charter school described in the document above. A blend would have made me a very happy mother a few years ago, but then, we tend to run ahead of our time around here.

  22. Kathryn says:

    Some have expressed interest in distance learning…seem to recall that a study team will be formed, but not certain if I heard that in the the context of a commitment or just musing.

  23. Kathryn says:

    Block scheduling allows for longer classes, but not necessarily the same classes every day. My high school had a six-day schedule, A-F, primarily so there could be long blocks for science labs. Blocks could be great for seminar-type courses, literature classes, AP test prep, art studio….anything. Can’t recall a typical schedule anymore, but we all took a lot of electives–maybe made possible by the blocks.

  24. Anthony says:

    The teacher Joe is talking about sounds like Ms. Hartford. Anyway, my biology classroom is full, and my Spanish 2 classroom only has one open desk.

    Yes, my World History class only has 17 kids in them. I did another count today, since no was one absent. And of course, smaller classes means less time for presentations, and that means more time reviewing the material for the test and exam. We had 2 days of exam review, because our class finished the curriculum before most of the others. With smaller class sizes, you can also be closer to the teacher, and get help a lot faster than a larger class.