The third annual report on class size was released on December 10, 2007, and revealed in hard numbers what teachers already knew—that the promise of Bill 33 is no closer to being fulfilled.
The number of classes this year with four or more students with special needs grew by almost 8% over last year. The ministry reports that 10,313 classes had four or more students this year, compared to 9,559 in 2006–07. They admit that this means 15% of all classes have four or more students with special needs. While Shirley Bond claims this is mainly due to more accurate school-district reporting methods, the opposite is the case. Reporting is less accurate than in the past with many students falling through the cracks.
The number of classes with more than 30 students decreased only slightly compared to last year—from 3,242 last year to 3,179 this year. That means that only 63 additional classes met the class-size limit this year—a decrease of less than 2%.
Despite the decrease being quite small, the minister’s spin—in the ministry news release and at the Learning Round Table meeting held December 10—is that the number of classes over 30 has decreased 66% over two years. This is based on there having been 9,253 classes over 30 reported in the 2005–06 school year. Bond said that there should not be an expectation that class sizes will continue to decrease in size in the future.
Irene Lanzinger urged Bond at the round table to listen to the voices of teachers who are working hard to meet all the students’ needs while the minister refuses to help them. “Teachers have tried over and over again, at meetings, and as recently as the Teachers’ Congress, to get the minister’s attention for these students, yet the minister continues to manipulate the numbers in an attempt to make the public believe conditions have improved.”
Bill 33 includes a provision by which teachers must be consulted before the fourth student with special needs is placed in their classroom. However, the principal of the school, not the teacher responsible for the class, has the final say.
“Why do we find that the majority of classes that have over three students with special needs are at the Grades 4–12 level?” asks Lanzinger. “The consultation process is virtually meaningless at these grades. The voices of professional teachers are being ignored. Our students with special needs have few advocates within the system besides their parents and their teachers.”