Ricardo Quintanar waits for his brother to get out of school at Willard Elementary School in Long Beach.
California embarked on an ambitious experiment in 1996 to improve its public schools by putting its youngest students in smaller classes. Nearly 17 years later, the goal of maintaining classrooms of no more than 20 pupils in the earliest grades has been all but discarded— a casualty of unproven results, dismal economic times and the sometimes-fleeting nature of education reform.
To save money on teacher salaries amid drastic cutbacks in state funding, many school districts throughout the state have enlarged their first-, second- and third-grade classes to an average of 30 children, the maximum allowed under a 1964 law, state finance officials and education experts said. Hundreds more have sought — and been granted — waivers authorizing them to push enrollment in individual kindergarten and primary grade classrooms to 35 and above.