And during social studies class at Scott Middle School, Keith Lilienfeld tries to keep control of a class of 25 students, 10 who need special education services, four who know little or no English and others who need more challenging work than he has time to give.
“I’m up there putting out fires like you wouldn’t believe,” said Mr. Lilienfeld, who used to have the help of two or three classroom aides. “There’s only one of me, and there’s a need for about five of me in there.”
Across the country, public schools employ about 250,000 fewer people than before the recession, according to figures from the Labor Department. Enrollment in public schools, meanwhile, has increased by more than 800,000 students. To maintain prerecession staffing ratios, public school employment should have actually grown by about 132,000 jobs in the past four years, in addition to replacing those that were lost, said Heidi Shierholz, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington.
On a recent afternoon at Scott Middle School, Mr. Lilienfeld placed a red rubber ball atop a stool at the front of the classroom. The setup served as a makeshift buzzer in a quiz game intended to help students review for a coming test.
One English-language learner put his head on his desk and refused to participate. Another girl, who receives special education services, spent the entire period doodling on a notepad. When several boys taunted a girl and she responded with an explosive “Shut up!” Mr. Lilienfeld ordered her out of the room.
“There is no way I could adapt the curriculum to meet the needs of all the kids in my class,” he said. During the next period, 26 students filed into Mr. Lilienfeld’s classroom for a study hall period, which is used to fill out their schedules because the school has cut so many electives.