School class size shrinks in city, survey finds

November 15, 1990|By Mark Bomster | Mark Bomster,Evening Sun Staff

Textbook supplies are more stable in Baltimore schools and some classes are smaller than in past years, according to an informal survey conducted by the Baltimore Teachers Union.

But the survey -- which the union notes is not a scientific sample -- also said overcrowding exists in first- and third-grade classes, along with a shortage of classroom supplies in some schools, including first-aid supplies.

And it indicates that fewer than a third of those who responded had received the AIDS-awareness training required of all school employees under school department policy.

Overall, however, "it seems like the school system is doing a fairly good job providing the basics, which they weren't doing before," said Linda D. Prudente, a teachers union spokeswoman.

School officials say they are taking the survey seriously, and will look into many of the complaints made by teachers, despite the survey's anecdotal nature.

"We are very concerned with all the information that they have in the survey," said Douglas J. Nielson, school department spokesman.

But Nielson also stressed that the survey is not a scientific or comprehensive poll of the city classrooms. He noted that the survey includes anonymous reports from about 300 of the city's estimated 5,700 classroom teachers, representing 67 of the city's 180 schools.

In general, however, "we're pleased with it," he said of the results. "This shows us to be in much better shape than we have been in quite some time."

The teachers union sent out about 5,000 of the questionnaires to its members, asking them about class sizes and the availability of textbooks, classroom supplies and first-aid supplies.

Basing its tallies strictly on those who responded, the union found that:

* A majority of the first-grade classrooms -- 27 out of 31 -- exceeded the school department's class-size guideline of 25 students per class. Overall, the first grades averaged 29 students.

* A total of 46 of the 48 third-grade classrooms had more than the 32 students specified by the city's guidelines. Those classrooms responding averaged 33 students.

* Of the 24 senior high school math classes responding, 19 exceeded the city's guideline of 35 students per high school class.

* A total of 18 of the 26 high school science classes also exceeded the guideline, as did eight of the 20 social studies classrooms and eight of the 30 English classrooms.

The survey also found that, although a majority of the classrooms have basic textbooks for use in class, books are often unavailable to be taken home.

Where textbooks were missing, teachers most often cited textbooks on math, spelling, science, social studies, language, health and social living.

In addition, a teachers union summary states that a majority of the elementary schools that responded "have very little or no basic art supplies, i.e., construction paper, crayons, glue, etc."

The vast majority of schools that responded also reported that audio-visual equipment was not working.

The summary also states that a majority of schools responding ** do not have adequate first-aid supplies in the classroom to deal with spills of bodily fluids, as required by the school department's AIDS policy.

The union contends that school department policy requires each classroom to have a pair of disposable gloves, soap, gauze, Band-Aids, cotton balls and paper towels. But the school department spokesman questioned whether the material had to actually be in the classroom.

The survey also found that just 96 of the more than 300 teachers who responded to the survey had received the mandatory AIDS-awareness training or other training on how to deal with injuries involving bodily fluids.

"That's very disturbing," said Prudente.

Overall, "we can see some real progress," said Prudente. But she added, "we're by no means out of the woods."

Nielson, meanwhile, conceded that the school department may have some overcrowding and supply problems.

"We are looking into every one of the question areas that they've raised," he said.

He said that Leonard D. Wheeler, assistant superintendent in charge of elementary schools, would examine the claims of overcrowding in the first grades.

The average class size in third grade, however, is only slightly higher than the city's size guideline. "I don't see that as a major concern," Nielson said.

Nielson also said that textbooks and classroom supplies are ordered by the principals.

"We know textbooks have been a problem for some time in some schools," he said. The survey appears to highlight spot shortages in elementary school texts and "we're looking into that."

Nielson also concedes problems in audio-visual supplies.

"To be quite honest, we can't afford to keep buying and upgrading all the audio-visual equipment that is in the system," he said.

And he also voiced concern about reported shortages in basic supplies, including toilet paper.

As for first-aid supplies, Nielson said the department had no knowledge of a policy requiring that first-aid kits be kept in every classroom.

Nielson also stressed that, in those cases where the school department is aware of students who are infected with the AIDS virus, "those classrooms are equipped and those who need to know do know about the situation."

He also said that school department employees underwent AIDS training in 1989, but that employees who have joined the system since then may still need to be trained.

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