This is another of those areas where it’s really difficult to get timely information. Most of the time, you likely don’t even think about it. But when your school district eliminates an essential service like transportation for students, claiming financial difficulties, using words like “110 fewer teachers per student in 2013 than it did in 2008 on a per student basis” to describe the dilemma, curiosity might strike. Like it struck me when this happened in Hoover four months ago.
What Is the Question?
According to the memo, it sounds like student/teacher ratio is higher in 2013 than it was in 2008 in Hoover City Schools. Due to the national recession, many school districts have faced the same dilemma.
So what was the student/teacher ratio in 2008? And what is it in 2013?
Like I said in Part 1, buckle in. These are tough numbers to find. Open up a new spreadsheet because you won’t find this number easily and you’ll need to do your own calculations.
You need two numbers: (1) the number of teachers in your district, and (2) the number of students in your district. Divide the students by the teachers and you have a third number, the student/teacher ratio.
Places to Look – The School and System Report Cards Prior to the 2008-2009 School Year
Prior to the 2009-2010 school year, the two numbers you need to calculate the third were available in a neat report card format. Abruptly, the ALSDE discontinued producing the report card by system and school beginning with the 2009-2010 school year. Instead, the Annual Report Card was deemed an appropriate substitute, which contains a whole lot of information, but none that is particularly useful on a school-by-school basis. Nor is it produced in a timely manner.
So up through the 2007-2008 school year, you can click on each report card (although it appears that the links to the 2008-2009 school year report cards are broken), page through and find the number of teachers in your school system (you have the option of choosing the “entire system” or a specific school) and then divide that into the number of students, which is available on a different page within the report card. That gives you the student/teacher ratio.
Do that for each year. Through the 2008-2009 school year, that is.
Places to Look – The Budget
If you are seeking numbers for the 2009-2010 school year forward, the place to look is the actual budget document produced for the school district’s budget hearing. If you’re fortunate, your school district might publish it online. If not, you will need to either make a phone call, send an email, or complete an Alabama Open Records Request to obtain the original document. Which method is required depends on the public information officer in your school district.
There is no other way to get these numbers. The only place to find these numbers is in the budget.
What is particularly distressing about this is that school districts are not required to adhere to their budgets. They may actually end up hiring more or even fewer teachers than budget numbers suggest. (Districts MUST employ at least the number of teachers the state funds.)
Remember: Budgets are planning tools. Budget variances, as in how much you budget versus how much you actually spend, can vary widely without consequence. Auditors can cite school districts for wide budget variances, but there are no actual penalties or repercussions. Another story for another day.
Within each budget document is a page that looks like this:
The red box at the bottom of the page holds the numbers you seek. The column on the far right contains the total number of teachers, 974.75, budgeted to be hired for FY14, which began October 1, 2013.
Find this page in each year’s budget for which you are seeking numbers. Type the numbers into your spreadsheet.
Fortunately, I had saved budget documents I needed, as only the FY14 budget document is available on the district’s web site at this time.
NOTE: Whenever you find the document that you need online, save a copy on your computer. It may not be there when you return to view it.
Verifying the Statement
Remember, the statement I wish to verify is whether Hoover City Schools actually employed “110 fewer teachers per student in 2013 than it did in 2008 on a per student basis” and what the student/teacher ratio turned out to be in 2008 and in 2013. More teachers per student doesn’t always equate to a higher quality of education for children, and fewer teachers per student doesn’t always equate to a lower quality of education for children.
And do not, under any circumstances, believe that student/teacher ratio and average class size are the same thing. They are very different. “Average class size is the number of students assigned to a classroom for instructional purposes” (National Education Association, Rankings of the States 2012 and Estimates of School Statistics 2013, p. xvii). Student/teacher ratio is simply the number of teachers employed divided by the number of students enrolled.
No one publishes “average class size” numbers.
So here’s my spreadsheet. I filled it in for FY04 through FY14 in case I should need those numbers later. Another tip: gather numbers where you find them.
For a quick comparison, in 2011, across the United States, the average number of students per teacher was 16.0. In Alabama during the same time period, the average number of students per teacher was 16.2. Hoover City Schools, at 13.73, was certainly lower than state and national figures.
But the real question is: does Hoover City Schools employ 110 fewer teachers in 2013 than it did in 2008 on a per student basis?
The calculation to use, then, is the number of students for FY13 (13,703) divided by the student/teacher ratio for FY08, or 12.93. I used 12.927 to be more accurate.
The statement made in the memo has been verified as accurate.
The next question, though, is whether a student/teacher ratio of 12.927 is an appropriate bar for our school community. Or whether the current ratio of 14.23 is low enough. That’s a question for the greater school community.
The numbers that would be most helpful, in my opinion, would be average class sizes. That information was previously available on the ALSDE site, but was removed at some point after 2008. Even then, the average class size was calculated only by teacher in each school, not by school or by district.
I feel certain that school district officials know what their average class sizes are, but I have yet to find one district that publishes that number publicly.
What Was the Point of This Again?
The first point was to verify the statement made by Hoover school officials. The second point was to show you how to find and calculate the student/teacher ratio for your school district.
The most important point was to show you how painfully difficult it is to find information when you need to verify what school officials are telling you.