Class Sizes in Oregon: The difference between rural and urban communities


    For more information on how smaller class sizes can impact the lives of young students, tune into #LiveOnKMTR NBC 16 at 11 p.m. on Wednesday, February 6

    EUGENE, Ore. - On average, most 2nd grade classes have a lot of energy.

    Consider one class at McCornack Elementary: There are a lot of kids there — 32 to be exact — which makes something as simple as walking to gym class not so easy.

    “It takes up a good chunk of space in a hallway or when you turn a corner and you can't see half of your kiddos that are moving from one place to another,” said Kate Wagoner, a 2nd grade teacher at McCornack.

    This is the reality at McCornack Elementary School, but not the case for all schools in Oregon.

    Just ask Brittany Lopez.

    After teaching a kindergarten class of 36 in Portland, she transferred to McKenzie River Community School.

    Now she has only 16 first graders in her class.

    Her class is consistent with the finding of a national think tank that shows no more than 18 students in a K-3 classroom can give students a better chance at graduating and going to college, especially for low-income and minority students.

    To scratch the surface of the issue, Oregon Governor Kate Brown is proposing to shrink the average kindergarten size to 20 and 23 for grades 1-3.

    “I think we're setting students up for success by smaller class sizes,” said Brown.

    “I've been able to do a lot more hands on projects and things that can delve into deeper learning for the students,” said Lopez.

    Besides reading in small groups and doing science experiments such as dissecting owl pellets, Lopez has time to really know not just every student, but also their parents, giving her insight on how her students learn best.

    “You can give that individual attention, you can make sure that you're meeting the needs of all the students,” said Lopez. “I feel like it brings excellence to the curriculum and to the teaching.”

    But this class knows that their classroom isn't the norm, and they know that they have it pretty good.

    This brings us right back to Ms. Wagoner at McCornack in Eugene, who supports the governor's efforts.

    “If I could be closer to 23 or 24, I feel like I’d be able to serve my students a lot better than I am now,” said Wagoner.

    It's obvious to many that she puts her heart and soul into teaching these kids, but meeting a wide range of needs is a challenge with just under three dozen students.

    “About a third of my class this year are below grade level reading,” said Wagoner. “I have an even bigger chunk this year that are below academically in math.”

    She's doing what she can to give them the skills and the mindset to improve.

    But she says smaller group learning could make all of the difference.

    SPECIAL REPORT February 4, 5 & 6 #LiveOnKMTR NBC 16

    PART 1 February 4: Breaking down Brown's budget proposal
    PART 2 February 5 at 11 p.m.: Comparing urban and rural schools in Oregon
    PART 3 February 6 at 6:30 p.m.: Closer look at what smaller class sizes mean for students

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