Over the summer we have seen a glut of school safety reports. Local, state, and federal agencies have written possible solutions they think will thwart future school violence. Some suggestions might be well-advised, but others have created concerns about questionable student surveillance. It’s difficult to believe any solutions will be successful if no one addresses class size.
In the July report from Homeland Security, “Enhancing School Safety Using a Threat Assessment Model: An Operational Guide for Preventing Targeted School Violence,” they report:
When establishing threat assessment capabilities within K-12 schools, keep in mind that there is no profile of a student attacker.
There have been male and female attackers, high-achieving students with good grades as well as poor performers. These acts of violence were committed by students who were loners and socially isolated, and those who were well-liked and popular (p.1).
Most teachers understand that middle and high school students experience hormonal changes and rapid physical growth. It’s sometimes difficult to separate mental health difficulties from general teenage angst, moodiness, impulsivity, or a variety of other developmental factors.
The omission in the report is lowering class size. Teachers who teach the same students, get to know their students. But this is difficult to do when teachers have over thirty students breezing in and out of their classrooms daily. In total, that’s 150 students!
Note: I’ve been reminded that many teachers will start school with class rosters of more than 150 students. One teacher noted she will have 180 students!
The plan includes forming a multidisciplinary threat assessment team, establishing central reporting mechanisms, identifying behaviors of concern, defining the threshold for law enforcement intervention, identifying risk management strategies, promoting safe school climates, and providing training to stakeholders. It can also help schools mitigate threats from a variety of individuals, including students, employees, or parents.
The report’s Table of Contents emphasizes attention to a variety of issues concerning students in school including:
- Inappropriate interests
- Weapons access
- Emotional and developmental issues
- Desperation or despair
- Violence as an option
- Concerned others
- Capacity to carry out an attack
- Planning Consistency
- Protective factors
They mention school climate but refer to a 2014, U.S. Department of Education Report, Guiding Principles: A Resource Guide for Improving School Climate and Discipline (p. 26).
Smaller class sizes are still not addressed. Teachers are better able to identify unusual student behavior if they know their students. When classes are smaller school feels more like home.
In the movie The Edge of Seventeen, a troubled student confides in her history teacher when life’s problems seem overwhelming. Students need to know that adults and other students in their lives care. But it’s unrealistic to assume this can happen with unmanageable class sizes. Teachers need time to connect with students. Students need smaller class sizes to connect with each other.
School reformers fight against lowering class size. They demand proof that it raises test scores. But lowering class size involves other benefits that are far more important.
Teachers must be given smaller class sizes so they can get to know their students. Without addressing class size reduction, other solutions are piecemeal and likely not to have the best effect on making safe schools.
While reducing class size may seem expensive and unattainable, giving students some smaller classes should be a reachable goal. School and school district officials should work towards this end.