If you are a parent of a preteen or teenager and ventured onto a school campus, you may not recognize the setting and culture that was there when you were a student. If you are a teacher for more than twenty years you have seen vast changes in student behaviors, the rise of bullying and social clichés, and the escalation of all kinds of problems. From years of research and observation and working as a Youth Director, I have come to the conclusion most of this is actually one problem that has fractured into an escalation of many problems. These “complications” range from bullying, lower graduation rates, lower test scores, students falling behind and dropping out, to school shootings. What is it? It is overcrowding! It is not the issues the TV commentators and even student activist groups have been protesting about. While mismanaging social media just amplifies the issues. Sometimes, when you are in the culture you do not see the problems associated with it.
Let’s look at some simple numbers
In 1920 we had over 250,000 schools in the United States and over 120,000 school districts; while, the population was 106,500,000, and there were 22,000,000 enrolled primary and secondary students. In 1950 we had over 150,000 schools and 85,000 districts, 25,000,000 students, and the population was 152,300,000. By 1970, the number of schools dropped to 100,000 and there were 20,000 districts, and a high of 45,000,000 students, while the population was 205,000,000. The school and district numbers remain around that number through today. In 2000, the population is 282,200,000, and we had 40,000,000 enrolled primary and secondary students. We can call this the big squish. Then you have 25 to over 35 students per teacher. Then after 2000, with usually no aids in schools that avenge nationwide over 500 students. Then, many secondary schools in the big cities average well over 3,000 to over 5,000 students.
“Eleven of 13 high school shootings occurred in schools with enrollments over 600 students, and many with over 1,000 students.” (School Shootings, High School Size, and Neurobiological Considerations, Journal of Neurotherapy)
In 1920, we had a revolution in how schools were run with standardizations and better training for teachers. Which was needed and good. After World War II the American educational system went through more of a vast change. Some for the better like funding and organization. While other changes to the detriment, like the rise of the mega schools and a turning away from smaller local community schools. The thinking was efficiency, save costs and bring together resources, which are all good ideas. Districts were merged, bigger schools built, and it worked for the most part. We were best in the world in the 1940’s, 1950’s, 1960’s and then we went into a downward trend in the 1970s’ onward. A collision of newer progressive ideas that were attached to poor research, arrogance, along with out of control unions that created a bloated, inefficient bureaucracy with many with a disregard for what effectual education is all about. With over half of the budgeting going toward administration and not to the classroom environment. Good ideas are important, unions are needed, and origination is a must, good administration and funding are essential; but, if mismanaged, it becomes a colossal failure as it has in many places. When managed well, as some school districts are, then you have a well-oiled machine, fully engaged, that is properly educating its students and prepares them for the future.
Of course, much of this has to do with the changing of culture, the world is very different as is the classrooms from 1950’s even the 80’s. We have a lack of discipline in the homes, an increase of fatherless families, a greater lack of moral compasses, a total disregard for authority figures, more violent media and entertainment, then there are bad food habits and so much more. So many issues vying to tear into students. Then add in the overuse of instant social media and place all this into an overcrowded school, then you have a hotbed trouble.
Look at it this way, when you take these postmodern students, and add in kids from fractured families, as well as those from various subcultures and interests all into congested situations not to mention teenage hormones, will all synergistically converge to be a factory of psychological stress and disorder.
School environment changes
Then what has been crafted is an environment that is very difficult to manage or create any real measure of success. As the classic book, “Lord of the Flies” so eloquently portrayed. You will have an overrun of clicks, a social hierarchy, like the old caste system in India. So, in a modern school, you will have bullying as a means of command and control from the schools “showrunners”, like the movie “Mean Girls” portrays. You have a greater number of students lost and confused with little hope, or ability to function at peak efficiency. Then these students will overreact and act out either outright or in a passive-aggressive way. Then you even have some schools, protecting the tormentors for the fear of litigious parents. All of this breeds contempt and attitude of flight and fight. Then we have more conflicts and dropouts beyond any reasonable numbers. Teachers and administration can’t possibly be in control of this.
Why did this happen?
There is a thinking that to combine districts and close smaller schools to build a bigger one will be better. It’s seemed effective on paper. But, in real life experience, it is not. Especially when you consider the buildings and resources that go into it, all to create bigger inefficient bureaucracies.
“Crowded classroom conditions not only make it difficult for students to concentrate on their lessons, but inevitably limit the amount of time teachers can spend on innovative teaching methods such as cooperative learning and group work or, indeed on teaching anything beyond the barest minimum of required material. In addition, because teachers must constantly struggle simply to maintain order in an overcrowded classroom….” (Source: U.S. Dept. of Education)
What do we need to do?
We need to change our mindset to an attitude of what is best to the wellbeing of the students, for effective education and to foster an atmosphere of care and mutual respect…
What can parents do?
- Parents need to be more involved and give more input.
- Demand smaller class sizes and child safety.
- Demand better management of public monies.
What can Schools, and Districts do?
- We need to rethink budgeting and planning from perceived needs from various agendas to actual needs.
- Better manage their vocation, reform the mindset of bigger is better, it is not. The answer is leaner and meaner, as in reduced and efficient. This is smaller campuses, smaller classrooms and better teacher ratios with qualified aids and resources.
- Teachers need to be better trained and equipped, cared for and rewarded.
- Parents need to be better communicated to.
- Get rid of the cattle drive mentality expecting everyone to run in the same direction and tailor to individualized services and needs.
- Charter a new course that can be your key to success. Start or partner with small charter schools with campus under 200, and student-teacher ratios under 12 to 1. With 1 teacher and 1 aid per class and any additional specialists as needed. With current state funding at over $10,000 per student, this is very achievable.
- Larger campus can be re-engineered and broken up into smaller factions. By breakdown bigger campus into smaller sections, including lunch programs, with little interaction between them. And then larger gatherings can be used for such as assemblies and sporting events.
- Tailored curriculum like “SmartFox,” so each student is working at their own level and best pace with biweekly and as needed tutoring. This will foster a better quality of education, make class time less stressful and encourage and equip the students far better and create a better future for all.
Let’s not forget what this is all about, educating students!
When we get away from the pressure cooker of overcrowding, we can effectively educate and support and inspire students to become their best potential. We will not be able to cease all problems, but we can create a healthier environment for wellbeing and academic success. Test scores will rise, instances like bullying will diminish significantly, school shootings will be a thing of the past and the security and happiness of students, teachers and parents will be back to an all-time high. Not sure? Then visit a small school or a charter school that is well run, then visit a mega school, you will see a stark contrast and there will be no need for more research and statistics, just a need for action!
Stat sources: Digest of Education Statistics. National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved 31 July 2015. U.S. Dept. of Education) https://nces.ed.gov/ https://www.census.gov http://www.educationalpolicy.org/ https://www.publicschoolreview.com/
Research on overcrowded schools: https://scholarworks.umass.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2583&context=dissertations_1 https://www.researchgate.net/publication/273124645_THE_IMPACT_OF_OVERCROWDED_CLASSROOM_ON_THE_ACADEMI http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0013916503035004007 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0362331917300241
For a school in Southern California that has a curriculum that is intuitive with great trained and considerate teachers, and has helped my son and can help you and your child’s success, look here: methodschools.org
Dr. Richard Krejcir is an Author, Researcher and the Director of a nonprofit that does educational training in third-world countries. He is also a Homeschool Coordinator at Method Schools and an instructor in a STEM program and a father of a son with autism.