St. Paul, MN – Responding to the St. Paul Public School district’s announcement that the average class size increased for the third straight year in 2010, teachers union officials held a press conference Monday calling for an immediate reduction in student sizes.
According to a study conducted by the Education Today, the average St. Paul public school per-class size increased by an average of 3.2 students from 2008 to 2010. And while the SPFT understands that larger class sizes are a necessary evil in the cash-strapped district, they are insisting that steps need to be taken to ensure that more students doesn’t necessarily translate into a larger overall student body mass.
“For years, Minnesota teachers have been seeing the number of students per classroom increase to the point where we’re running out of places to put them,” said St. Paul Federation of Teachers (SPFT) president Charles Ockwagon. “If the City of St. Paul is going to continue ask us to put more students in our classrooms each year, then this union is going to require that those students be substantially smaller in physical stature than current students. Simple as that.”
As for how the union expects to accomplish the vast reduction in the physical size of the district’s students, Ockwagon says the union is willing to propose a variety of methods put forth by teachers at a January brainstorming session.
“We’re at an admittedly early stage in the discussion, but any and all ideas for reducing a child’s size are on the table at this point,” said Ockwagon. “We’ve heard suggestions ranging from removing the arms and legs of long-limbed children to forcibly starving both mildly chubby and chronically obese children. A second-year science teacher at Dickerson Elementary even thinks some form of shrink-ray may not be out of the question. We’ve really got a blank slate here.”
In recent years, similar Student Size Reduction (SSR) programs have proven wildly successful in a number of southern states.
Public schools in Little Rock, Arkansas saw a dramatic reduction in the size of the average student in 2010, a direct result of their “You Can’t Spell Learn Without Lean” initiative in which students are given extra credit for either skipping lunch three times a week or becoming manageably bulimic.
“The program has been a godsend for this district,” said an anonymous Little Rock Public Schools administrator. “Our students are now smaller on average, and when a student is admitted to a hospital due to a serious eating disorder, we gain even more valuable classroom real estate.”
Some SSR programs, however, have proven less successful, as evidenced by Chattanooga Public Schools’ “Your Hair for a Chair” program. The program, which required students to go completely hairless in order to get a chair in a classroom, was cancelled when it was discovered that a child’s hair didn’t actually take up as much space as initially thought.
Minnesota Department of Education commissioner Debbie Klinebold was encouraged by the union’s willingness to think outside the box regarding enrollment issues, but sees the forced reduction in the size of students as an unrealistic expectation with the current budgetary limitations facing the city.
“The City of St. Paul is all for making students smaller, but for every method of reducing the size of our children put forth by the union, there is an associated cost that we simply cannot afford at this time,” said Klinebold. “Amputating limbs? You’re going to need high-quality knives and dozens of sharpening apparatuses. Forced bulimia? Better increase your janitorial staff. Genetic alteration? Hope you have durable fences to keep out the churchies.”
Ockwagon, however, sees the size reductions as a way to not only save the district money, but also to reinvigorate and energize overwhelmed teaching staffs.
“Sure, there will be some new costs associated with our proposal,” said Ockwagon. “In the grand scheme of things, however, we will be saving the district millions. It doesn’t cost a thing to starve children. Lead-based paints are great for stunting growth, and they’re practically giving that stuff away. We see this as a way for teachers to really use their imaginations and up the ante in their interactions with students.”
On a separate note, union officials also put forth a separate proposal on Monday that would require each parent in the district to substitute teach one day a week in order to give teachers an extra thirteen weeks of vacation per year.