News Story

The Media Myth of the 60-Student Detroit Classroom

The myth of the 60-student classroom in Detroit Public Schools has gone viral. CBS News ran a blurb quoting The Detroit News saying that class sizes would increase to 60 students under Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb’s plan.

But according to Michael Van Beek, the education policy director at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, Bobb's plan does not state that he intends to bump all class sizes to 60. Instead, Bobb is merely asking for the managerial authority to do so. In reality, Van Beek says class sizes could increase to 40 or 45 and still save the district millions of dollars each year.

“There doesn’t need to be 60 kids in a classroom with one teacher,” Van Beek said.

What is really at stake is what is currently contractually allowed by union contracts. The largest class size allowed by union contracts right now is just 35 in high school.

Bobb’s plan shows the maximum contractually allowable class sizes for grades 9 through 12 increasing to 60 in 2012-13 and 62 in 2013-14 in comparison to the current union-contract maximum of 35.

But 60 would be the most allowed under the union contract if Bobb gets his way. To demonstrate how far the district is from ever reaching the 60-1 maximum ratio, Van Beek notes that Detroit had 5,029 full-time teachers in 2009-10 and had 88,774 students, giving it just a 17.6 to 1 pupil to teacher ratio district-wide.

At the high school level, Detroit had 767 high school teachers and 24,466 high school students. That’s a 29 to 1 pupil to teacher ratio.

If those ratios stay the same, Van Beek says there’d be no need to let class sizes grow to 60.

Yet by gaining the flexibility of allowing class sizes to grow, Bobb’s plan estimates the district would save $15.1 million over four years.

Bobb’s spokespeople, Steven Wasko and Jennifer Mrozowski, did not return messages seeking comment.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.