Published: September 7, 1983
In an effort to improve the achievement levels of their most disadvantaged students, the Dade County schools have launched a large new program this year that will place more than 17,000 elementary-school children in classes of 15 or fewer.
In preparation for the program, the district hired about 800 new teachers, installed room dividers in hundreds of classrooms, and devised a new curriculum that focuses only on basic skills.
"It's going to take a lot of cooperation," said Herbert Weinfeld, district administrator of Chapter 1 funds. "Space is very definitely a problem. But from our point of view, it's the most realistic approach to solving the problem of low achievement among disadvantaged kids." Standard class size now ranges from 25 to 28 students, he added.
The $17-million program will be funded largely by federal Chapter 1 funds, some state compensatory-aid funds, and $435,000 in district funds, school officials said.
The reduced-class-size concept is already being used on a smaller scale at two schools with lower-income students in Austin, Tex., and at one school in Leon County, Fla.
Test results in the three-year-old Austin project indicate that the children in the small classes learned at a rate of about two months per year faster than children in standard-size classes of 25 to 30 who received supplemental Chapter 1 instruction, said Glynn Ligon, an Austin school official.
Dade County, which includes Miami, is the fourth-largest distict in the nation, with an enrollment of 222,000; 39 percent of its students are Hispanic (largely Cuban, Puerto Rican, and Central American), 31 percent are black, and 29 percent are white.
The Dade program will operate in three phases.
Phase 1 includes the four poorest elementary schools in the district, where more than 95 percent of the students receive free or reduced-price lunches, and achievement levels are almost all low. At these schools, all 2,192 children will participate in the new, smaller-class plan, regardless of their test scores, said Mr. Weinfeld.
To make this "school-wide" plan possible, the district has voted $435,000 in local funds in order to include those few children who are not eligible for Chapter 1 funds because they score at or above class norms, Mr. Weinfeld said.
The four schools that have been selected for the school-wide program are diverse both ethnically and geographically, Mr. Weinfeld noted. One is an inner-city school with a large Hispanic population; one is in a rural area on the southern edge of the city with a largely black enrollment; another is an inner-city largely black school; the fourth is in a suburb and enrolls mainly Hispanic children.
Phase 2 of the program extends to the 20 next-poorest elementary schools in the district, but only to students who have scored below the 50th percentile on basic-skills tests, said Mr. Weinfeld. At least 8,000 students fall into this group, he said.
Phase 3 of the program includes 7,000 more children who scored at or below the 15th percentile on the tests, drawn from another 82 schools. Phase 2 and 3 of the program offer children the smaller classes and revised curriculum, but only include Chapter 1 children, Mr. Weinfeld said. Paying for children not eligible for Chapter 1 funds on a school-wide basis would be "too expensive," he said.
The new curriculum will concentrate for half of each day on diagnostic reading, writing, and mathematics, said Richard White, executive director of the elementary- and secondary-school instruction division. In the afternoons, other subject areas, such as science, will be taught with an emphasis on using the basic skills, he said.
The curriculum will also include practice in the development of speaking skills, Mr. White said. Many of the children being served speak English with a dialect, he said, and these dialects tend to "stigmatize" the children. The purpose of the class "is not to degrade or devalue the dialect of the home, but to encourage the children to learn a second dialect and to encourage them to switch," he said.