The number of students per teacher in a classroom has been an issue in collective bargaining since the first contract negotiations began in Michigan more than 30 years ago. Unions maintain that smaller classes allow teachers to spend more time with each student, thus boosting educational achievement. Consequently, many of Michigan’s school districts have negotiated language that affects class size into their bargaining agreements.
Over a third of collective bargaining agreements in Michigan currently establish a maximum number of students for each class and provide for mandatory teacher salary bonuses any time this maximum is exceeded.
Negotiating smaller class sizes has proven to be a costly arrangement for school districts, especially those with growing student populations. Further, there is little good evidence suggesting that small classes predictably and systematically yield higher student achievement. Establishing class size requirements within a collective bargaining agreement restricts the school administration’s decision–making about the most effective use of staff, space and scarce financial resources.
In short, every school district now has the ability through careful collective bargaining to effect reforms that will help meet the demands of parents, taxpayers, students and teachers. School board members in all of Michigan’s school districts must seize the opportunity to transform the bargaining process from an adversarial one into one more focused on cooperatively improving the educational product, increasing value, and protecting the rights of all concerned.