Monday, August 31, 2020

AV #214 - Teachers - Two key factors: Time and Class Size. More important than the pay check?


Two key factors affecting recruitment, retention, and how teachers feel about the profession: Time and Class Size

The teachers’ strike in Denver Public Schools last year focused on money. But teachers in Colorado and across the country have other concerns that actually might be even more compelling reasons for their dissatisfaction and why they leave the profession. More important than salary? I think so.

The first one I address in this newsletter is Time. Why? Because that was the top concern from the 2020 survey of Colorado teachers. The second concern is closely related: put most simply as “class size,” but it’s a bit more complicated than that. For secondary teachers, it is how many students we are asked to teach.

I trust we all care about attracting more good people to the teaching profession and about improving teacher retention. I am less certain we know why a teacher says: I have had enough; I can’t keep doing this.


I was fascinated to read the state’s Teaching and Learning Conditions in Colorado (TLCC) Survey, which showed that more than any other issue, our state’s teachers expressed frustration over a lack of Time. Close to 32,000 teachers responded to the survey in the spring of 2020. Most often three-quarters or more responded positively to questions on a variety of issues pertaining to how they see their job. But not when it came to Time.

Especially telling: the remarkable contrast between how teachers struggle with Time and how little school leaders appreciate the problem – a 32% gap on several items. (The survey breaks down responses by subgroups. See next page.) Can principals really be so blind to how their teachers see this issue?


To teach middle and high school English was the most fulfilling job I ever had. Throughout most of my 18 years in the classroom I found the job demanding but doable. If and when I could not sustain the commitment I was making, I left. As I often did. There was no plan. I did not see my time trying other pursuits as “a break” from teaching; I just felt a need for a change. After spending “time away,” I managed to stay a little longer in four teaching jobs: two years in my first teaching job in Massachusetts, three years in Vermont, four years in New York, and after 13 years away from the classroom, five years in one school here in Colorado. My chief enemy—other than myself at times—was Time. There was always the sense of Never Enough Time—to do a good job, and to have the Time I would have liked for myself.  

A.     TLCC Survey – 2020 -


So I am not surprised to see Time come to the fore in our recent state survey. Many school leaders, however, must be stunned. They should take note. They can surely do more to address the problem. 

From Summary - Lowest Rated Constructs on Teaching and Learning Conditions


·         Time remains the lowest rated construct of the TLCC survey this year.

·         Inadequate time to prepare for instruction and support students is still challenging for Colorado educators.

·         Only 5 out of 10 educators (52.6%) agree that they have adequate time to support students’ social and emotional learning.


From - Table 4.  State Level Scores (p.14)  [on 11 categories pertaining to teaching conditions; responses here are from entire “school-based staff: teachers and building leadership.”]

“Teaching: Some Global Comparisons”[i]

“Education at a Glance,” a 2017 study of 50 industrialized countries by the Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation, found that “U.S. teachers at all grade levels work longer hours than their international counterparts.” … “‘In the U.S., teachers have quite a high teaching load compared to international averages…’”

                                             Favorability            2020 Rankings       

Instructional Practices and Support                    83.8%                      1

District Supports                                                      82.7%                     2                   

Overall Reflection                                                    82.7%                       3

Community Support and Involvement                 82.1%                       4

Facilities and Resources                                        80.9%                         5

Teacher Leadership                                                 79%                           6

 School Leadership                                                  78.9%                        7

  Managing Student Conduct                                  77.5%                         8

  New Teacher Questions                                         73.1%                         9

      Professional Development                                      68.4%                       10

      Time                                                                        58.3%                     11


From Section 3 – Preliminary Findings (p. 22)

“With the highest item scored 63.7%, and the lowest 52.6%, it is challenging for many educators across the state in almost all aspects that are under the Time construct.”

                    Breakdown of items on Time – these four had the lowest scores:

Survey Item

Score 2020

I have adequate time to prepare for instruction.


I have adequate time to analyze and respond to student assessment data.


New initiatives (e.g. curriculum, assessments, instructional approach) are given enough time to determine their effectiveness.


I have adequate time to support my students’ social and emotional learning.*


*NOTE: Elsewhere in the Survey, in the section on Professional Development, to this question: “Which of the following would be most beneficial for teachers in the school to learn more about?” – the most popular item was “Social-emotional learning of all students” (13.2%). Second on the list: “Teaching students with trauma” (11.5%).


And about that huge gap between school leaders and teachers

I mentioned the most disturbing finding from the Survey: when it comes to the issue of Time – obviously a struggle for almost half of the teachers who responded – school leaders don’t see the problem. What can this mean? Do school administrators even ask their teachers how real this issue is for them? Do principals not understand what their teachers are experiencing? Can they really be this out of touch?

Or is it that they lack the authority to do much about it, and thus feel their hands are tied? Perhaps the district is making decisions that school leaders know full well will make it even tougher for their teachers.


Items with Greatest Subgroup Disagreement by Role – Teachers vs. School Leaders

Survey Items


School Leader*


New initiatives (e.g. curriculum, assessments, instructional approach) are given enough time to determine their effectiveness.




Teachers have adequate time to analyze and respond to student assessment data.




Teachers have adequate time to prepare for instruction.




Teachers’ time is protected from duties that take time away from teaching.




*See the gap in scores in 6 districts: Aurora, Pueblo 60, District 27J, Mapleton, Adams 14, & Englewood. Endnotes (1).

B.      What is behind the concern about a lack of Time for so many Colorado teachers?

     So nearly half of the 32,000 teachers in Colorado who took part in the TLCC Survey expressed real frustration about the lack of Time. But it will do little good to blame Time. We all have the same 24 hours in a day. What is the chief cause of a lack of Time?

    My answer is class size. Or, as a secondary teacher, to be specific, the number of students we are asked to teach, to know well, and to care about. Most teachers, I believe, would make this same correlation. The Colorado Education Association's survey of over 700 Colorado teachers in 2018 would support this: “74% of educators need smaller class sizes; 63% of educators need more time for planning and professional collaboration.” (See Addendum A.)

    How much time a teacher has for planning and grading, and simply for being available to talk and listen to and know students well, depends, in a million ways, on how many students he or she teaches. In two private schools I never taught over 65 students; I do not recall teaching more than four classes per semester. One “large” class had 18 students; often there were 12 to 14. In three public schools the numbers were higher, but better than the crazy numbers I see some secondary English teachers in Colorado are expected to teach—sometimes 140 or more (28 students in 5 classes). In such cases, of course time is the enemy.

    The TLCC Survey includes a question on class size under Facilities and Resources. I hope in the future the Survey will give this issue greater prominence. Teachers unions in Colorado—unlike what we shall see in other states (Section D)—seldom put the issue front and center. I hope they will. And in a school choice environment, parents who check the web page for each school find nary a word about the average class size. (See the Denver Choice and Enrollment pages - Nothing on class size.) This ought to be readily available. Few parents, I believe, would choose to send their first grader into a classroom of 35, if they know of better options. But in DPS, it appears that 35 is not unusual.

     “Gentrification Leading to Overcrowded DPS Classrooms” (by Michael Roberts, Westword, Aug. 19, 2019) caught my attention. My dismay at what I read inspired me, in part, to tackle this issue in AV #214.

Information we've received from local teachers reveal that class sizes of more than thirty students are commonplace at elementary schools throughout multiple sections of the DPS system, and particularly in those neighborhoods that have become favorite destinations for families priced out of their previous homes by gentrification. (See “What DPS tells us on class size,” Addendum F.)

*The title of Theodore Sizer’s classic study of the American high school, Horace’s Compromise[ii], reveals the degree to which teachers feel compelled to do less than what they consider is best practice—in order to cope with the excessive demands of the job. No professional with integrity takes pride is such concessions. Sizer is careful to stress that Horace is being “realistic” in doing less than he “should”; it is not a compliment.               (NOTE: Sizer’s school reform model survives; see Endnotes #3 for the low class size in the charter school he and his wife helped to create back in 1995.)

    As CEA’s survey suggests, if we ask teachers what would make the biggest difference for them, a huge percentage might respond: give me a more reasonable class size/a manageable teaching load, and I will be deeply grateful to know that at last my voice on Time has been heard. I will be proud to be able to teach in a way where I compromise* less, where I feel less overwhelmed, and where I can imagine doing the job another 10 to 20 years.

    The 2018 study of Colorado’s teacher shortage spoke to this issue as well. Its Strategic Goals on increasing teacher retention included: “Provide reduced teaching loads for novice teachers” and “for mentor teachers to work more strategically with novice teachers.”[iii] Good mentors make a profound difference in a young teacher’s experience, but the classroom visits and coaching cannot happen without sufficient Time. (See Addendum M – “Retention and Attrition of Teachers in Colorado.”)


                Teacher strikes - What we heard in other cities, but not in Denver

The 2019 teachers' strike in Denver was “all about the money.” How else could you describe it?

“Denver Public Schools, teachers remain $8 million apart in compensation talks as strike vote looms,” by Elizabeth Hernandez, The Denver Post, Jan. 18, 2019 -

“How an all-night negotiation ended Denver’s first teachers strike in 25 years,The Denver Post, Feb. 16, 2019.

The deal … puts an additional $23.1 million toward teacher pay ($25.2 million with incentives), awards educators average raises of 11.7 percent next year and establishes a new salary schedule that starts at $45,800 a year and tops out at $100,000 annually.


One year after Denver’s historic teacher strike, what did the walkout accomplish? - Teachers earned raises that averaged about $9,000 year — pay increases funded in part by administrative job cuts,” Elizabeth Hernandez, The Denver Post, Feb. 9, 2020.,noticeable%20uptick%20in%20teacher%20retention.


But a lack of Time is obviously a huge concern for many Denver teachers. Endnotes (2) shows how 10 DPS schools responded on the issue of Time in that TLCC survey. Is the teachers association aware of this?

That Denver Post article on Jan. 18, 2019, did touch on more intangible matters than a paycheck. Superintendent Susannah Cordova stressed “how completely dedicated I am to supporting teachers.” Support can come in ways that directly impact a teacher’s working conditions. As Aly Nutter suggested in that same article.    

   CDE hosted a discussion in Limon on the teacher shortage in the summer of 2017. Several school leaders spoke of why few high school students were not inclined to consider teaching as a career: “They watch their teachers,” one said, “and their teachers are exhausted.” One superintendent said, given all the expectations of teachers, “the job doesn’t seem to be fair.”

 C.   Exhaustion, burnout 

A Merrill Middle School teacher, Nutter “was so burned out before the strike” that she was preparing the leave the profession. The Post quoted her:

I was seeing the people who were in it for so long, and they were exhausted and many of them didn’t seem happy anymore. I decided to leave because of the testing culture. Even though we did really well with the strike, and we won what we were negotiating for, we could only negotiate salaries. Yes, we do deserve to be paid as professionals, but there are way bigger problems than teacher pay.”

“Why do so many teachers end up leaving the field of education? Some of the most common answers are: Emotional exhaustion, stress, burnout; challenging work conditions and long hours; low pay…”[iv]

The Post asked Nutter to look ahead. Though she “isn’t sure what her next career move will be, … she hopes the unity and power gained by teachers during the strike continues to propel DPS in a direction that better serves the students at the root of it all.”            

What are those “bigger problems than teacher pay” she referred to? What are the conditions that enable teachers to “better serve the students”—and that address teachers’ overall well-being? Did the union’s strike in Colorado make such concerns a priority? As Section D will show, teacher strikes in other cities surely did. And for many of them, class size was a key item. 

I wish Colorado unions, school boards, and policymakers (Addenda C and L) also made class size a priority.


D.     Class size issue front and center in other strikes - LA, Oakland, Chicago 


LOS ANGELES, CA                                                                                                  

The Los Angeles Teacher Strike's Class Size Conundrum

All Things Considered, National Public Radio, Jan. 17, 2019                                                (All bold mine)

   Los Angeles science teacher Michele Levin knows she caught a break: She only has about 33 students in each of her classes at Daniel Webster Middle School — pretty small, by district standards. In most LA Unified School District middle schools, the largest core classes have 37 kids — with other classes sometimes as large as 46. That's compared to a national average of 26 to 28 students at similar middle schools. "We're at the whim of the district for class size," Levin said as she picketed on the first day of her union's strike against LAUSD.

   Objective reporting on the class-size issue will point out the pros and cons that are debated about the benefits of smaller class size. This NPR piece from 2019 provided a range of perspectives. It also included this:                                    “One last reason why this matters”    “Setting aside the research and the question of costs and regulations: The ground truth is parents want small class size.”

    "For me, that's the No. 1 reason I'm out here, because it's not fair to have so many kids in a class."

    Leaders of United Teachers Los Angeles have made class-size reduction a centerpiece of their negotiations with the district, a move that's galvanized the union's rank-and-file and won broad public support for the strike. Union leaders are demanding a complete rewrite of the district's class size rules, aiming to make current classes smaller and give the district less power to make them bigger.

    To Levin, the benefits are clear: A smaller class means each student gets more than her fleeting attention. It means she can actually return parents' phone calls. It means 150 papers to grade at home each night, instead of 200.

    "Class size is a fundamental issue," union president Alex Caputo-Pearl said at a recent press conference. "That is about student learning conditions. That is about educator working conditions."



Oakland Teachers Strike For Class Sizes and Student Supports

NEA Today, by Mary Ellen-Flannery, Feb. 21, 2019

    Fed up with unequal resources that starve their students of the schools they deserve, the 3,000 members of the Oakland Education Association (OEA) went on strike on Thursday to demand smaller class sizes and increased access for students to counselors, school nurses, librarians, and school psychologists.    

    In Oakland, educators are focused on what students need to succeed. And it’s much more than the current one counselor for every 600 students, or one nurse per 1,750 students. “This strike is as much about the structure of our school system and services for our students as it about a living wage for educators,” [OEA President Keith] Brown said. 


Strikes in Los Angeles and Oakland have an impact on class size – but not in Denver


“Collective bargaining and teacher strikes” - 

National Council on Teacher Quality, by Kency Nittler, March 28, 2019 

    In both Denver and Los Angeles, teachers ended the strike with the same amount of money going towards raises as was on the table before the strike. However, in both cases teachers won other concessions from the district. In Denver how the new salary money is distributed bent in the union's favor, with the district reducing a bonus for teachers working in Title I schools, among other changes to the compensation structure. In Los Angeles, the union won a significantly larger investment in support personnel and class size reduction.

    In Oakland, teachers received significant salary increases in comparison to previous district offers, ultimately winning an 11 percent increase over three years compared to the pre-strike district offer of seven percent. In addition, Oakland teachers won some minor concessions regarding restrictions on class size.


“Low pay, large classes, funding cuts: behind new wave of US teachers' strikes” 

The Guardian, by Michael Sainata, Feb. 27, 2019


    “Our work conditions are the students’ education conditions. We’re doing the best we can at an impossible job and that’s not OK for our students and it’s not OK for our own dignity,” Tania Kappier said.

    Kappier, a history teacher at Oakland Technical high school and board member of a teachers union in Oaklandexplained classrooms in Oakland’s school district are too large, her history textbooks are outdated, schools in the district don’t have nurses, adequate staffing of counselors, no librarians, and music and art programs are non-existent at some schools in the district.



 “How Class Size Demands Could Trigger A Chicago Teachers Strike”

WBEZ Chicago/National Public Radio, by Sarah Karp, October 10, 2019

      As a strike looms, the Chicago Teachers Union held a press conference Wednesday afternoon to call attention to one of its biggest issues: a demand for lower class sizes.

The press conference was held at Simeon High School on the South Side, where students said they often feel lost and teachers said they feel overwhelmed with large classes.

The teachers union has said that it won't make a deal with the school district unless they get some movement on class sizes. Currently, Chicago Public Schools has class size limits but they're advisory only. The CTU wants to lower the limits and a way to be able to enforce them.

Parent Carmen Salamanca said her fifth grader at Shields Middle complains about large classes. Her daughter struggles in math and she thinks she would be doing better with fewer classmates.

Salamanca [sic – said?] other parents at the school back the teachers union's [sic] on their class size demands. “The teachers want to give them more personal attention,” she said. “It is something that they want so they can be better teachers. It is not just for themselves. It is for my child.”

     Every year, there are some extreme situations. Last year, for example, three kindergarten classes and one third grade class had more than 40 students in February.

     About a quarter of the core high school classes — English, math, science, social studies and world language — have more than 28 students. In high schools, overcrowded classrooms occur throughout the city, from selective enrollment high schools to neighborhood schools.


“Chicago teachers, students return to class Friday as 15-day strike ends”

ABC Eyewitness News/ABC, by Diane Pathieu and Sarah Schulte, Nov. 1, 2019

    "This is an unprecedented thing that happened, right, we have language in the contract regarding class size, we have language in the contract regarding staffing numbers and we've never, ever had that before [sic] this is a tremendous victory," said CTU Financial Secretary Maria Moreno.

    CTU reached an agreement with the city Thursday…. The contract itself is the first of its kind with an agreement to establish enforceable class size limits, puts nurses and social workers in every school.




“Teacher Strikes: The Impact on Students & K-12 School Security”


Rave Mobile Safety, bTara Gibson,


   Throughout the past year the United States saw multiple large-scale teacher strikes across California, Illinois, Colorado, Arizona, North Carolina, West Virginia, and more. Although there are several different motives for teachers to choose to go on strike, typically the reasons range from salaries and benefits to school infrastructure and class sizes.

    Teachers from this school district were not striking for just labor issues, but for the future of public education in the area. Michael Schepps, who teaches 7th grade world history, said, “I have 41 students, and in two of my classes it prevents me from doing things I want to do, such as group work. I used to do plays in my classroom, with costumes, and because of the numbers, I can no longer do that.” With such a large class size, Schepps was unable to do the activities he wanted to, and foster a positive learning environment for his students.

    … Ileen DeVault, a professor of labor history at Cornell University said to the New York Times“I think more and more teachers are going to be saying, ‘Gee, I have some of the same problems. Look what the Chicago teachers, look what the L.A. teachers, look what all these other groups of teachers got when they went on strike.’”


Interested in more information on class size in Colorado? My Addenda to this newsletter, AV #214 - Teachers, Time, Class Size: Addenda- is here online at Another View.  Perhaps one of these topics, below, will be of interest.

A.      CEA and 2018 Teacher Survey: “Teacher Voices: Teachers Know What Their Schools and Students Need.”  

B.      Must class size be a political issue?

C.      One example of how class size was lost inside a partisan debate: Amendment 73.

D.      How does Colorado compare to other states? Answer: bigger classes than most.

E.      What the Colorado Department of Education tells us on class size. (It doesn’t. Teacher-student ratio ≠ class size.)

F.       What Denver Public Schools tells us on average class size. (Nothing.)

G.      The numbers our high schools tell us, celebrating their success. (But not a word on class size.)

H.      A parent’s struggle to find the average class size of his/her child’s school.

I.        On the other hand, what one Denver charter school network will tell us on class size.

J.        Where class size information is made public. (Take the quiz)

K.       Six more examples from private schools announcing their average class size.    


L.       State law – Efforts to address class size - in other states and in Colorado.

M.       Retention and Attrition of Teachers in Colorado– related to Time and Class Size?



From the Teaching and Learning Conditions in Colorado survey - 2020

      1)  NOTE that the LOWEST SCORE IN THESE 7 DISTRICTS* is almost always in category for TIME. 

NOTE ALSO THE REMARKABLE GAP – perceptions from teachers versus school leaders – on issues of TIME. 


Overall Favorability Score on Issues of TIME

Response from Teachers on TIME

Response from School Leaders on TIME


Aurora Public Schools





Pueblo 60





District 27J















Adams 14








Not Available


*Why pay special attention to these 7 districts? Because in each case their academic achievement is well below the state average. Together their teachers are sending us a strong message. Are we able to hear it?

2)  NOTE the worry about Time that comes through loud and clear AT THESE 10 DENVER SCHOOLS.

 Denver Public Schools – 10 schools - Favorability rating on TIME – (State Average score – 59%)


Overall Favorability Score on Issues of TIME

1.      Kaiser Elementary


2.      DCIS Montbello


3.      Hamilton Middle


4.      George Washington High


5.      Denver Montessori


6.      South High


7.      Colfax Elementary


8.      Morey Middle


9.      Place Bridge Academy


10.   Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr. Early College



3)  ONE SCHOOL - Knowing how central the class size / teaching load was to Ted Sizer and his  Coalition of Essential Schools, I was curious to see how this principle is carried out in the charter school he and his wife led back in 1998-99.

Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School – in Devens, Massachusetts

400 students, grades 7-12 – now in its 26th year.  

In August, I spoke with the school’s director, Colleen L. Meaney. 

In 7th and 8th grade teachers team-teach—for example, one English teacher and one History teacher in each classroom of 28 students. This is a double period called Arts and Humanities. Then the two teachers do it again with another 28 students later in the school day. 56 students to teach and know well.

Ditto for the two 7th/8th grade math-science-technology teachers (MST block) working together with their two classes of 28 each.

In grades 9-12, the teaching load for teachers in these four core disciplines can get up to 70.

In grades 11-12, there are no double blocks. Teachers in the core subjects are likely to have four one-period classes, with between 14 and 18 students. Again, almost always teaching fewer than 70 students.

The Spanish teachers sometimes have classes by themselves of 28 students; these teachers can have a total of more than 70 students in their classes. 

See my next newsletter: teachers at Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School do have an ADDITIONAL ROLE as advisors to 10 students. This is how the school supports students without having a department of counselors.

[i] “Teaching: Some Global Comparisons,” by Sarah Sparks, Education Week, Sept. 20, 2017.

[ii] From Horace’s Compromise – The Dilemma of the American High School, by Theodore R. Sizer, Houghton Mifflin, 1984. Among the nine principles Sizer articulated for the Coalition of Essential Schools:

Personalization. Teaching and learning should be personalized to the maximum feasible extent. Efforts should be directed toward a goal so that no teacher have direct responsibility for more than eighty students….” (Bold mine)

Sizer included several questions raised about his proposals—and his response:

        “The teacher-pupil ratio–one to eighty. It’s impractical without greatly increased expenditures. Get realistic!

“The work load of high school teachers will not decline without new compromises—ones such as teaching two subjects to 80 students rather than one to 160. Or narrowing the curriculum. Or expecting a larger percentage of the adults in a school building to teach students, and to teach them well, than is now often the case. Yes, the load can be brought down if people are willing to reconsider some of our cherished assumptions about the structures of secondary schooling. (Afterword, p. 229)

[iii] “Colorado' s Teacher Shortages: Attracting and Retaining Excellent Educators,”

[iv] “Why Some States Have Higher Teacher Turnover Rates Than Others,”

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