The following write-up is applicable to many public non-gifted and gifted programs but is specific about CPS. This is an opinion only, and is based on some of our founders' experience in CPS, which also includes high quality experience in large class-size environments. Overall, we here at Midwest Academy feel that the class size we offer is more appropriate to gifted students.
One of the biggest challenges faced by Chicago Public Schools Selective Enrollment Programs is class size. While the gifted programs sport a slightly smaller class size than the rest of the CPS, the class size is still very large. This very much impacts the younger grades especially, K-3. It all really comes down to individual school policy and teacher. Some teachers are able to differentiate amazingly well even in the early years 1:28 program. However, imagine what that same teacher could do if they only had 8-10 students, even if they are the perfect teacher! If you ask any teacher, what is their ideal class size where they will feel confident in teaching, do you really think many would say they would prefer to teach 30? We don't really know, but we couldn't find any data on this either. We wonder, does that question make it into any sort of a 360 employment survey in CPS? The data would be interesting to see for sure.
Here is a study around social policy and class size, that looks at high-quality data. Even a small class size reduction from 22 to 15 when there is only one teacher leads to a significant educational gains. In the State of Illinois, there is indeed legislature recognizing class size is a way to improve performance in struggling schools, and grants are available for some failing programs because it's an easy way to make gains. However, SEES would never be seen as failing because they are measured by teaching above grade level. What does actually happen? Is it that the actual quality of instruction each student receives is great, or is it that there are higher-performing students to begin with. Could it be that they can make do with less because those students will pick up the slack and the parents at home will too?
In a typical gifted public classroom, there may be students performing below grade level in one or more subjects. They are all pushed to maintain at least 1 grade level above average pace. At the same time, the top students in the class may be 3-6 or more years ahead of the rest in one or more subjects. If a teacher has 30 students, It may look like this, hypothetically:
- 2 students that are below CPS average in all subjects but tested in using the RGC or classical test in Kindergarten
- 2 students that are are below CPS average in one subject only
- 5 students that are globally below gifted 1+ years of attainment but are at normal public school levels
- 6 students that are able to keep up but find the material challenging in one or more subjects
- 5 students that keep up with ease
- 5 students that are 1-2 years ahead of SEES 1-1.5 year acceleration
- 5 students that are more than 3 years ahead in at least one subject
The result is that the teacher has to have one lesson that they will teach, most likely, for much of the unit, that will be applicable to about the middle 1/3 of the class. They will then spend time with the bottom 1/3 making sure they will have attained class-level norms. Not much, if anything, will be left to the top. We know in some classrooms, for some teachers, and in some schools, many will argue that their top third students get what they need. We do think that CPS does an amazing job in many cases. We just think that this city deserves an alternate option for those where they are not finding that the system is working for their children consistently.
This is because gifted students do not just jump to 1 year ahead in kindergarten or first grade and stay there. This is because many can learn at a pace faster than the average student and are able to grasp more than 1 year of curriculum a year. In fact, they will be able to deduce and teach themselves. You may click here to read about this phenomenon with the gifted here, when they start a new grade, they might even already know 40% of what you are about to teach them. They will be able to figure out some problems from just reading the problems and thinking about them without ever being taught. The policy of trying to herd students at the same pace from grade to grade in our public programs is why MAGE is here. While the top of those students will all uniformly get into "the next and the next" best school - is this really how we want them to spend their days? To wait until it is their turn to learn, while the teacher teaches the bottom so that they could keep up? The work which is due so that they could be graded is not at many of their academic levels - they are having to take the same grade level tests and complete the same homework very frequently in many schools just for the sake of receiving a grade.
What makes teachers' jobs more challenging is the "push in" intervention policy for students that need extra help, regardless of whether this is needed for academic or emotional reasons. If a student is struggling and needs accommodation in some areas, the learning resource or other support team will go into the classroom and set up a plan for the teacher to implement. This becomes the teacher's job in addition to just teaching the students. When there are 30 in a room, democratic allocation of teacher time does not happen, in the regard of equal time. Instead, the allocation has a different democracy: how to help each student attain grade-level minimums.
For an asynchronous or non-grade level learner, this is not great. There isn't an advantage sometimes to push a student to study beyond grade level, as it may cost their self esteem, or even at grade level when it comes to certain aspects. In our system, we see strengths in our students beyond their ability to take a test or fill out a worksheet. We work with families to understand what is important for them and to support each student as an individual with adequate attention given to their unique needs in the classroom from the teacher. After all, whether they are paying tuition or taxes, they are all equally entitled to their piece of the educational pie. Why should the top students get a smaller slice of the pie, especially if they are sometimes more hungry? A smaller class size ensures that there is enough for everyone.