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Class size data equals accountability


December 10, 2019 Jonathan Teghtmeyer, ATA News Editor-in-Chief


“In today’s digital landscape, data is a powerful resource — one that can unleash enormous social and economic innovation.”

Those are the words of the late Manmeet Bhullar, then minister of Service Alberta on the introduction of the Alberta government’s Open Data Portal in 2013.

“By opening up government data, we are helping to make this innovation possible,” he said.

“I consider class size to be an important barometer of education funding health generally.”  


In response, then ATA president Carol Henderson called for class size data to be uploaded into the new public portal.

“We know that reporting (jurisdictionwide) averages hides the fact that there are extraordinarily large classes in many schools,” she said.

It took more than five years of pressure, a ground-breaking auditor general’s report and a tenacious reporter’s week-long investigative series to finally get the data shared. By November 2018, then education minister David Eggen authorized the posting of class size data for every classroom in the province going back to 2004.

In his February 2018 class size report, auditor general Merwin Saher concluded that, “because of the department’s lack of public reporting throughout the initiative, Albertan families have remained uninformed about how effective that funding has been in achieving the desired class size targets.”

He also took aim at the use of class size averages.

“The department’s use of average class sizes as its target has an inherent limitation as it obscures the actual number of classes that have not met the (Alberta Commission on Learning) suggested levels,” Saher wrote.

Now, just a year after the data was released, the government says it is planning to stop tracking and publishing class size data. Education Minister Adriana LaGrange’s press secretary said the reporting was created to track progress on the “failed Class Size Initiative,” and since that $291 million fund has now been eliminated, there is no need to require reporting.

I have a big problem with this. Not just because small class sizes matter to students’ educational experience, but because I consider class size to be an important barometer of education funding health generally.

From 2004 through 2009, the government made important investments in public education, including the introduction of the Class Size Initiative, which supported the hiring of 2,900 teachers across the province. The student–teacher ratio dropped from over 17 to under 16 and the average K – 3 class size dropped from 21.8 to 18.2.

Since then, base funding has not kept pace with inflation. A number of school board grants were cut in 2011 and others were cut again in 2013. As costs rose, school boards have had to take money from base funding to cover unescapable increasing costs in other areas: supports for special needs, plant operations, maintenance and transportation.

Across the province, school boards are underfunded in these areas to the tune of $187 million per year (on average). And that shortfall is coming from instructional funding.

Ultimately, school boards cannot escape rising costs, like that of diesel fuel. The main lever they have to deal with underfunding is to hire fewer teachers and pack more kids into each classroom.

So as funding started to falter in recent years, we saw the teacher ratio rise back up over 17 and the average K – 3 class size return to over 20.

The loss of this valuable classroom data will make it very difficult for us and other public education advocates to hold the government accountable.

I’m worried that is the real reason they decided to eliminate the reporting requirements. ❚

I welcome your comments—contact me at

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