When my 10th grade son leaves his chemistry and English classes for the last time this spring, he will be beyond the reach (or protection) of Florida’s class size limits for good. The AP courses in calculus and physics he has signed up to take next year – which are the new normal for students who are planning careers in the physical sciences and engineering – don’t have class size limits because of the action of the 2011 Florida Legislature. Neither do the other AP courses he is scheduled (and being encouraged as a matter of public policy) to take. This year, his AP classes ranged up to 32 students, considerably larger than the 25 student limits placed on lower level classes in language arts, math and science. It’s an odd sort of incentive for a state that says it is dedicated to educating more students in STEM fields.
And in case you’re wondering, class size matters. It takes only one visit to a 15 student high school math or science class to see the difference in the level of interaction between teacher and students. FSU’s studio physics classes maintain a student-to-instructor ratio of 24-to-1 or less.
If somebody tells you that larger classes better prepare strong students for college, don’t believe them. Even if it is a legislator saying so. Class size caps were lifted from AP courses not because larger classes are better for college-bound students, but because money is tight and getting weaker students through the graduation requirements in language arts, math and biology is a higher priority.