Valentine's Marks Special Anniversary For Teachers: Smaller Classrooms

If you're a first grade teacher with a class of just twenty two students, then there's someone special to thank this Valentine's Day.

“My mother!”

That would be the mother of former Texas Governor Mark White.

He's a Democrat here in Houston and led the state from 1983 until 1987.

For decades, his mother taught elementary school here.

White says her experience in the classroom inspired many of the reforms passed in House Bill 72 — like the limit on class sizes.

“I'm looking right now of a picture of my mother's classroom when she taught the first grade. And the cap at that time was an average of 28 to 1. And if you count the children in her first grade class there's almost 34 children there.”

White says that's because schools back then used averages — not real ratios. And they added in other school employees, not just teachers.

But ever since House Bill 72, there's been a cap of 22 students for every teacher. That applies for kindergarten to fourth grade.

There have been attempts to change it.

As recent as 2011 state Senator Dan Patrick, a Houston Republican, wanted to revise the class size rule.

But some say the tradition still matters.

David Anthony is the former superintendent of Cy-Fair one of the largest districts in Texas.

“Class size is still a factor.”

Now Anthony leads an education advocacy group, Raise Your Hand Texas. He says not all classrooms are exactly the same.

“You have to be very cognizant of the needs of the children—the mainstreamed children with learning disabilities, the children who are economically disadvantaged, the children reading below grade. That should be based on the needs of the kids, not on the specifics of a law or the needs of the adults.”

Even as adults remember this anniversary of how Texas education changed 30 years ago, some say schools aren't really following the law.

That's because districts can get waivers and go over the class size limit.

Gayle Fallon is the president of the Houston Federation of Teachers. The union's counted more than 1,000 waiver requests from the Houston school district this year.

“You were only supposed to get a waiver if you could show that in your facility you couldn't find another classroom. Now they just get a waiver ‘cuz they feel like it.”

Even the governor who helped create smaller classrooms agrees those rules need to be revisited.

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