Latest study: Reducing class size doesn’t benefit student achievement

As often happens within education research, major studies contradict one another, and that is again the case with the new study on whether state-mandated class size reductions in Florida improved student achievement.  In a word, the study out of Harvard said “no.”

The question bears consideration here in Georgia where many systems are increasing the number of  students in a class to save money. (By the way, the author of this study, Matthew Chingos,  co-wrote  “Crossing the Finish Line: Completing College at America’s Public Universities.” and here is an interview I did with him on that book.)

According to the official release:

A new study finds that Florida’s 2002 constitutional amendment mandating a reduction in the size of classes in school districts throughout the state had no discernible impact upon student achievement, either  positive or negative.

Florida’s constitutional amendment, which forced districts to use state funds for class reduction unless they had already reduced class sizes to an acceptable level, had no impact on average student performance. Students in schools where districts were not forced to spend their money on class size reduction improved as much on state tests as those attending schools in districts subject to the constitutional mandate. The study also found no significantly different impact on the average performance of ethnic and racial groups or between economically advantaged and disadvantaged students.

The study, conducted by Matthew M. Chingos, a research fellow at Harvard University’s Program on Education Policy and Governance, analyzed student-level data provided by the Florida Department of Education to follow all students in grades four through eight who took the state reading and math tests between 2001 and 2007.  During this time, average class size was reduced by about three students.  Chingos found that students attending schools that were required to reduce class size did no better on state math and reading tests than students attending schools that were given funding to spend as they saw fit.  The study also showed no discernible impact on student absenteeism and behavior problems.

“We do not know from this study whether giving districts more unrestricted state funds has positive effects or not,” Chingos said, “but the study strongly suggests that monies restricted for the purpose of funding class-size reduction mandates are not a productive use of limited educational resources.”

The class size amendment is estimated to have cost about $20 billion over the first eight years of the program and $4 billion per year subsequently. Florida’s voters will be asked this coming November whether or not they wish to revise the constitution’s class size requirement to apply to average class size in each school rather than the size of every individual classroom.

“This study is extraordinarily important given the great strain that Florida’s class-size reduction policy is putting on the Florida state budget,” commented Paul E. Peterson, director PEPG. “I hope this study serves as a wake-up call to state legislatures across the nation as they make tough budgetary decisions,” he added. In recent years, 24 states have mandated class-size reduction policies.

In an essay in the journal Education Next, Peterson — who is also editor-in-chief of Education Next — offer insights into why this research study does not agree with an earlier study of class size out of Tennessee that found benefits:

Peterson writes:

Why do his results differ from those found in Tennessee?  Chingos does not offer any definite explanation, but here are some possibilities. The teachers in Tennessee knew they were participating in an experiment, which if successful could persuade the legislature to make class size reduction a statewide priority.   Knowing that a positive result could be of benefit to them, the teachers assigned to smaller classes might have become more assiduous and enthusiastic than those assigned to larger classes.

Secondly, the schools with larger classes did not receive comparable fiscal resources in Tennessee, as was the case in Florida. The gains in Tennessee may have come from extra resources, not anything specific to class size reduction.  Finally, the Florida information tells us what happens when a state government tries to bring about class size reduction on a large scale, whereas the Tennessee experiment was limited to only a fairly small number of schools and to much larger reductions in class size.

125 comments Add your comment

duh!

May 19th, 2010
8:45 am

I can see why class size alone will not make much difference. If teachers are keep doing the same things with a fewer students, I’m not sure what benefits will actually follow. Teaching must adapt to smaller class sizes in order to achieve the positive results.

Hey Teacher

May 19th, 2010
8:47 am

There is a lot of missing data in this report. How large were the class sizes to begin with? As a veteran teacher I can tell you that there is not much difference between 21 and 25 students but once you have more than 30 in a class, even one less is a relief. Were these schools high performing to begin with? Finally, is the state reading and math test a reliable measure of class size reductions?

Seriously???

May 19th, 2010
8:49 am

OK, So is there a study that talks about the detriment caused by INCREASED class size? I can’t believe anyone can learn this new math curriculum with 40 kids in a class (soon to be in Cobb County students’ futures).

Teacher&mom

May 19th, 2010
8:51 am

Studies like this create more confusion than answers. When I read that the average class size was reduced by three students, I can understand why there wasn’t a big difference in test scores. Three students….not a big deal. However, many of us are looking at increases of 10-15 students next year. That is HUGE and it will impact student learning. Notice I say student learning and not student test scores. There is a big difference…

Maureen Downey

May 19th, 2010
8:57 am

@Teacher&MOM, What system and what grades and subjects may see 10 to 15 more kids in a class next year?
Maureen

Teacher&mom

May 19th, 2010
8:57 am

Rural systems

Teacher&mom

May 19th, 2010
8:57 am

Rural systems at the high school level.

Maureen Downey

May 19th, 2010
8:59 am

Teacher&mom, Let me know if that happens as I would like to visit a system that was forced to raise class sizes by that much and see how the schools are coping. I am sure the education writers here at the AJC would also want to know about that.
Maureen

John

May 19th, 2010
9:09 am

I am 56 years old. When I was growing up and attending a public school in a relatively small city in south Alabama, we had 30 or more students in our elementary classes every year. I finished high school in Georgia with as many as 40 students in a class. I went on to graduate with honors from a highly respected postgraduate program in a major university. My wife has taught first grade classes ranging from 14 to 30 students. She says the success of her class varieas but not depernding on the size of the class. Large class sizes have absolutely no impact on the success of students.

d2

May 19th, 2010
9:17 am

It’s the discipline that is becoming the problem- not the actually teaching. 30 kids now days is harder to manage becuase of the distraction with cell phones, and other devices.

John Q

May 19th, 2010
9:26 am

and this study by a research fellow at Harvard University’s Program on Education Policy and Governance was in no way reflective of a current Harvard Grad’s public education policy out of the White House.
Really? They studied the difference a 3 student reduction makes in a classroom. Let’s use a little reality here. Cobb will go from 28-30 students in core classes to 35-37 in the same classes next yr. Core classes include everyone from the “I want to learn” student to the “where can I get my next fix” student. Statistically, a class is much more likely to include several more of the “I don’t cares” than this yrs class. 5-7 more students in a classroom built for 25 that already holds 30 is going to be an issue. In our teens ‘look at me’ world, all it will take is one class clown to set things off. Especially when our teachers cannot adequately remove the disruptive.
Yet another narrowly focused and wasted study.

d2

May 19th, 2010
9:26 am

Isn’t this the same person who said that non-profit and for-profit schools in Philly were different and that non-profit did better than profit in Math scores–THEN he had a lecture at Harvard and said the opposite was TRUE–that is for profit schools showed 70% gain in Math scores?

SDM

May 19th, 2010
9:28 am

I would not say that class size has NO impact on achievement, but we should think about what smaller classes afford to teachers and students. What exactly do teachers think smaller classes will offer to better students’ learning? I think many of the items suggested will be “management” matters – less papers to grade, more attention to students, etc. But, if teachers are doing the same thing no matter what class sizes are, then, they are really practicing “one size fit all” teaching method. And, I think many people have complain about “one size fit all” in many different policies. So, what’s different about teaching approach? If teachers don’t adjust their teaching approach, then class size alone will not matter much.

Seriously???

May 19th, 2010
9:28 am

John,
40 high school kids in a class in 2010 cannot be compared with 40 kids in a high school class in the 1960s. It’s a whole new ball game.

V for Vendetta

May 19th, 2010
9:33 am

There are so many X-factors left out of this study that I won’t even comment on it. Ridiculous.

William

May 19th, 2010
9:44 am

And here we see the fundamental flaw of quantitative research on display. This sort of quantitative research makes a huge assumption: state standardized tests are the single best measure of student achievement. I’m a social studies teacher. How should I measure the achievement level of my students? If we use the state standardized tests, then student achievement is defined as how well students remember random facts (who was Georgia’s first royal governor, which Native American group started using pottery, etc.). Should that really be the primary function of schooling? Shouldn’t I be more concerned with developing a student’s critical thinking? If the latter is the case, then the this study is bunk.

HS Teacher, Too

May 19th, 2010
9:46 am

Maureen,
I can tell you that with THAT many kids in a room, teachers don’t have time for meaningful feedback on assessments. It becomes a matter of writing assessments for ease of grading (or ability to grade them and turn them around quickly). And right there, we lose some important way to reach students. Speaking for myself only, if I were in that situation, I’d end up with less partial credit, less time to devote per paper, and more “group” reviews where the entire class reviews the “problem problems,” as opposed to targeted groups for the kids who need specific material. It becomes more resource/time management than real and effective differentiated teaching.

Studies like this are always interesting to me precisely because they leave out so much information, as everyone has already pointed out. ANYONE who’s been in a classroom knows the entire dynamic changes with fewer kids. Even today when I have 20 kids instead of 26, I am able to spend more time on individual questions and more time addressing specific needs. Is my evidence anecdotal? Sure. But we all know the standardized tests are a bunch of hogwash anyway. I also have a class of 14, and it wouldn’t matter if I stood on my head and spit gold; that particular group is more difficult to reach than any other group of kids I’ve ever had. Thirty in that room would require no more police presence than I already call in with 14.

catlady

May 19th, 2010
9:54 am

I look forward to reading this study. I would like to know about many of the variables mentioned here, but specifically related to SES/home makeup/parental education. There is plenty of other research that calls this into question.

I’d also like to see this with a national study done longitudinally. What we have seen in the past is that it “catches up with” students, perhaps several years later. (See studies done by NCES with NELS databases, among others).

A class of 30 in AEC (Affluent East Cobb) might not have the same challenges/needs as a class in PSG (Poor South Georgia) or the mountains, or a lower class urban setting.

I can say for a fact it is a nightmare when kids have been promoted without the skills they need for success at the next level, without even taking into account the needs of sped (including BD), and ESOL kids.

SDM

May 19th, 2010
9:58 am

Enter your comments here

SDM

May 19th, 2010
10:01 am

An underlying assumption for smaller class size is that the best instruction is one-on-one, individualized instruction. When teachers approach teaching from that perspective, instead of seeking the best group/mass instruction, then they won’t be as effective as they can be.

Educational researcher

May 19th, 2010
10:06 am

Let’s be very clear on this:
Educational research has consistently shown that reduced class sizes work well for the following:
(1) young children (grade 3 and below)
(2) children from low-income communities

Other than that, the research is mixed. And at the high-school level, findings consistently show that class sizes up to 35 can achieve the same results as class sizes lower than that.

Of course, reducing a class size does not ensure high-quality instruction. And high-quality instruction is the KEY. Having fewer students makes good instruction a whole lot easier–I believe any teacher would agree.

Studies of class-size often try to control for instructional methods in order to ensure that the comparison actually hones in on class-size as the dependent variable. So, you can imagine, a researcher could study a small class with low-quality instruction and a large class with low-quality instruction and deem class-size to be a non-issue. Rarely do studies investigate what kind of teacher can maintain high quality instruction (including assessment and meaningful feedback) with 35-40+ students. And I have yet to see a study on class-size account for the changing times in which teachers are teaching today–there’s a greater need for technological integration, formative feedback, and caring than ever before.

I worry that a politician would take this study and run. They’re already stripping our schools of money–this would give one more reason to strip more. Please beware of studies like this that try to answer an age-old question–one that is the wrong question. We should be asking how to ensure high-quality instruction for all students.

clueless

May 19th, 2010
10:08 am

As many have stated, too much left unstated in the article, including beginning and ending class sizes. Depending on the students, not much difference usually between 25-28 but huge difference between 28-31 at high school level with average to below-average students. One kid with a behavior disorder can throw the whole thing out of whack no matter what class size.

Old School

May 19th, 2010
10:12 am

I still think classes like grammar, reading, remedial math, could be effectively taught not only in a larger class but to a mixed level (10th through 12th graders). My classes are mixed 9 through 12th grades and I have few if any discipline problems. Granted it isn’t a core class but my expectations are high and the mixed ages/mixed abilities seem to actually enhance the learning. Mind you, I normally have up to 4 or 5 different courses of study going on at the same time: intro to drafting, residential design, technical drawing, solid modeling… not to mention teaching students the various AutoCAD programs. It would be a blessing to have single subject classes but I think I would still prefer the mixed ages/mixed abilities. We all learn from each other every day.

If it works in CTAE, I’m sure there are core classes that could make it work.

Maureen Downey

May 19th, 2010
10:15 am

@clueless, You are right. A teacher I know had only 13 kids in her class, but one had severe behavior issues and held the entire class captive to her manic moments. The child is now out of the class, and the teacher says it has changed her life and her other students’ performance and behavior.

V for Vendetta

May 19th, 2010
10:47 am

As some others have mentioned, what about meaningful grades? How am I supposed to cope with grading twenty+ more essays? How will that affect my instruction, planning, and time? (I won’t even mention my home life because no one seems concerned with how much of our own time we spend working for the school.)

I write as much as I can on each and every essay. It takes me between five and ten minutes per essay, depending on the quality. Let’s do some simple multiplication here:

(I’ll be conservative in my estimates)

130 students
5 minutes per essay
= nearly eleven hours of grading time (just for that one assignment)

compared to . . .

155 students (an increase of five per class)
5 minutes per essay
= nearly thirteen hours of grading time (an increase of two hours, or TWO planning periods/two hours with family/two hours of instructional work)

That was being CONSERVATIVE. It often takes me far longer to grade essays in lower level classes. I would guesstimate that the actual time would be closer to fifteen hours–FOR ONE ASSIGNMENT. When that increase in time is extrapolated across all assignments for all classes, we’re looking at a monumental increase in time.

And that’s not supposed to affect instruction? That’s not going to impact student achievement?

Unlikely.

SDM

May 19th, 2010
10:51 am

@ Educational researcher,

“Having fewer students makes good instruction a whole lot easier–I believe any teacher would agree.”

I agree, but this assumes teachers know what good instruction looks like. Also, good instruction with 28 students may not necessarily be good instruction with 14, and vice versa.

“there’s a greater need for technological integration, formative feedback, and caring than ever before.”

I think it is only a “perceived need” for technological integration. I don’t think we have any more need for formative feedback and caring that we ever did. They were always important.

Hey Teacher

May 19th, 2010
10:52 am

If class sizes are not an issue, why do the best private schools in the area (Pace, Westminster, Lovett for example) cap their classes at 15?

Gwinnett Parent

May 19th, 2010
11:04 am

Juggle the numbers and you can get any number you want. This study would be credible if all of the classes in the study had very similar students in a similar environment(learning capabilities,family backgrounds,iq,ect). I bet it is more difficult to teach a group of 18 rural students that don’t care compared to 25 upper middle class motivated students .

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Elizabeth

May 19th, 2010
11:09 am

John: I too was in school in the 1960’s and believe me classes of 40 were manageable then, as my mother, who taught in my high school, would tell you if she were still alive. School classes of 40 today would and will be a nightmare.for all of the issues already mentioned in this blog– discipline, more time to grade, less meaningful assessments, plus anything else I have left out. As for no ability grouping, that helps the struggling students, but it does nothing to enrich the brightest students who are held back by the ones who are not on grade level. You simply cannot compare schools of the 1960’s to the schools of today. Everything has changed, and it is people like you and our legislators, who still picture schools they way they were in the 1960’s, who are mandating new requirements and problems for teachers of today because they HAVE NO CLUE what they are talking about.

Ellen

May 19th, 2010
11:11 am

I think back to college… I attended a small college with the average class size around 25. My sister attended a sprawling state university and had 250+ students in her freshman classes.

Who do you think got more personalized attention/help, was actually engaged in the class, and had reason to be well-prepared for every class? Hint: it had a lot to do with class size. Even she says I got a better college education than she did.

Why wouldn’t the same apply to elementary, middle and high schools? It’s elementary, my dear!

Matt Chingos

May 19th, 2010
11:12 am

Thanks for all of the interesting comments. One point raised was that one would not expect reducing class size by about 3 students (from 23 to 20 students) to have much of an effect (as the study finds). However, I think it is still an interesting question to ask because that is exactly what the Florida class-size reduction policy did, at an estimated cost of $20 billion over eight years, with continuing operating costs of about $4 billion per year in subsequent years. My study does not suggest that class sizes should be greatly increased (it provides no evidence on this question), but it does suggest that spending billions of dollars to reduce class size by a handful of students is not a particularly productive use of limited resources.

Dr. John Trotter

May 19th, 2010
11:17 am

Maureen, It is real simple. You can have 35 or 40 in a room, if there is discipline and order. But, if you continue to have spineless, good-for-nothing, lazy, and incompetent administrators who do not support the teachers in disciplinary matters, then this is THE problem in public education. If the students perceive (which they do) that there are NO consequences to defiant and disruptive conduct, then they will continue to run roughshod over teachers with impunity. Chaos will prevail.

It’s the discipline, Maureen.

Attentive Parent

May 19th, 2010
11:17 am

Slightly off topic but this should help some frustrated teachers feel a little better.

There’s a new column up on the Core Knowledge blog that teachers are being held accountable for lack of student achievement even though they are at best a minor factor in what is going on with some students.

Here’s the link: http://blog.coreknowledge.org/2010/05/19/joint-and-several-accountability/

JP

May 19th, 2010
11:22 am

As an educator, I must say this “study” is extremely vague. Too many factors and subgroups missing.

Devildog

May 19th, 2010
11:25 am

It’s not the size of the class. It’s the class of students and parents that make the big difference.
As the old saying goes, you can’t make chicken salad out of chicken . . . .

Question

May 19th, 2010
11:30 am

I am not an expert on this topic but everything I’ve read on it says that it makes a huge difference in 1st through 3rd grade but does not make much of a difference after those years. However, when it’s implemented in the 1st through 3rd grade it pays large dividends all the way through middle school.

JP

May 19th, 2010
11:33 am

@Dr. John Trotter,

You really hit the nail on the head. It is unfortunate that no one wants to talk about administrators not supporting their staff. That is NEVER brought up. I have been teaching middle school for almost 7 years now and I believe I am up to the task of teaching 35-40 students, but I am human. In that large of a classroom setting, I am almost sure one or two students will try me. That is when I will need the support of my administrators. Unfortunately, most of the time you don’t get that support and have to focus more on discipline than teaching. So back to the original question: Does class size matter? It depends on how administrators treat discipline in the school.

TeacherInCobb (TIC)

May 19th, 2010
11:33 am

This was written by a Walton High School teacher. This letter is making it’s rounds throughout Cobb County’s finest teachers. Name deleted for protection.

May 27, 2010

An Open Letter to the Cobb County School Board

Dear Sirs and Madams:

I am unable to attend this meeting in person tonight because once again you have deployed every tactic you can in order to ensure that teachers will not have a say in what happens to them over the course of the next school year. You have scheduled this meeting after the end of the school year at a time when many teachers, myself included, have already had to leave for their summer employment, jobs that we must take because of the paltry wages we are paid. Additionally, you have deliberately fired large numbers of teachers, and then offered contracts to those who remain after announcing a new schedule that shortens the school year by five days. It was quite obviously your hope that when these factors converged together teachers who were offered contracts would be relieved to have a job and happy that only a small portion of their pay had been cut. You assumed the teachers would, therefore, quickly sign their contracts. You then used the fears of the teachers as a weapon against them because as soon as most of them had signed their contracts, you announced that you were also considering a percentage decrease to teacher pay. Obviously you already knew this was going to happen, but you chose to wait to tell the teachers so as to entrap them in contracts with which they might not be happy or eager to sign. This sort of underhanded, double-dealing has become par for the course. We should have expected it, but we, the teachers, still foolishly expect some kind of human decency from our employers. I suppose that by now we should know better. You began treating us badly as soon as money became an issue for the county and your behavior has only worsened over time.

I strenuously object to any further pay cuts for teachers. We are already being asked to deal with huge pay cuts, staff cuts, furlough days, and larger class sizes. You simply cannot balance the budget on the backs of the teachers without asking others to make sacrifices, especially when those sacrifices are so small. It would be no real sacrifice to ask administrators to give up the extra pay they receive for sick days which they do not take. It would also be no great sacrifice to up the millage rate for Cobb County to twenty. In fact, board members, themselves, have stated that such an increase would result in increased taxes of about $65 per household. I am certain that most people would be happy to pay $65 to ensure that their children received a quality education and that they would not have to pay even more money later on in increased crime rates and reduced property values. I understand that you believe this would be a politically suicidal move, but it is time for some of our elected officials to fall on their swords. Do not worry. It should not be terribly painful. The swords have already been sharpened by plunging them through the backs of your teachers.

I know that you believe that teachers are prepared to take pay cuts and to accept other difficult circumstances because they love children and want to do what is right by them. It is certainly true that we love children and enjoy our jobs helping children to achieve their full potential. I certainly love my job. But you make a serious error when you treat teaching as if it were a calling equivalent to entering a monastery. One should not have to take a vow of poverty in order to become a teacher, yet you seem to assume that we have already done so. This assumption will prove to be a serious error on your part. In the long run, as you cut salaries and make the conditions of teaching increasingly miserable, you will only guarantee that the least qualified people will become teachers. You are sinking education into a morass from which it will be difficult to extract the schools. Enough is enough. To further cut teacher salaries without asking for concomitant sacrifices from administrators, board members, the superintendent, and the community members is absolutely unconscionable. I can only hope that if you stupidly go ahead with the plan to make teachers the sole group paying for Cobb County’s budget woes that at least it will trouble your sleep at night.

Sincerely,

xxxx

V for Vendetta

May 19th, 2010
11:34 am

Matt,

I agree with your argument; however, I think many teachers (including myself) are simply angry and frustrated with the people who continue to cite studies such as yours as evidence that increasing class sizes is a viable option. Your study, as you said, is not really arguing that point.

TeacherInCobb (TIC)

May 19th, 2010
11:38 am

@ Duh! – You’re an idiot. Like D2 said, it becomes a discipline issue, not to mention, a safety hazard. I teach science and having 40 kids doing a lab is an accident waiting to happen.

JCW_ATL

May 19th, 2010
11:40 am

Class sizes do matter, currently I am graduate student but my job requires me to go into a Boston public elementary school and help teach science. Sometimes we will have a full class or we will split the class into half-groups during science class, and speaking from experience the kids learn more in smaller groups. One reason is that in big classrooms you have more behavioral issues than a smaller classroom, and you spend more time controlling the class than in a smaller class. Also, in small classrooms you can spend more one on one time with the students as well.

Lets be honest lecturing is not the best way of teaching students, more one-on-one time is needed for students to understand materials.

As of now I am pursuing my PhD and since I started this process, all of classes were small with an average of 10-12 students, and I have benefited much from small class sizes.

Dennis

May 19th, 2010
11:42 am

As a retired headmaster of over 30 years at college-preparatory non public schools, our data-driven education industry never ceases to amaze me. Class size in itself being a major reason for “improved results” is a farce. And that’s experience talking, not statistics. Trying to compare the effectiveness of size on an advanced placement history class with that of a second grade or special ed class is ridiculous. Yet that is what was and often continues to be done. Expecting special ed students to produce grade level results on our standardized testing programs that is routine procedure now in our data driven world doesn’t make sense – I mean other than those with physical and emotional issues, why are the greater majority of them placed in special ed in the first place? They learn differently. And results should be measured differently. Over my thirty years in the PK-12 grade business any time something not already tried and true (and, of course, supported by data) was suggested, our colleges of education hierarchy and “experts” in the field fought tirelessly in opposition to it – insisted on the maintaining of the status quo. Technology, class size, implementing a “learning style” approach are but good examples. Oh yes, they did come up with something. Debacles produced by these same experts such as “A Nation at Risk” promising a solution if there were just more $$$$ thrown at the problem which we all know has been a dismal failure. And most recently the “No Child Left Behind” mandates. The real problem? In my opinion changes from a worker to entitlement society, a government bent on giving benefits to all regardless of work ethic and a citizenry eager to accept them, and parents expecting others to raise their children. Those areas should be the first targets of education reform. But back to the question – to those who claim class size does not impact results – how about being upfront and admitting you’re talking economics here, not educational philosophy. Sure class size makes a difference. But not in the sense its being presented. If the establishment allows a teacher to teach and apply the different principles that address individual needs, the larger the classes the more difficult it becomes – regardless of whether its AP History or an elementary self-contained class. And if a teacher actually understands and is eager to accept the fact that new approaches, not lecture alone in high school classes might require more effort and work. And hey people, it might work in industry but while standardized testing has its place, using tests alone as the only yard stick for success is the first baby to throw out with the bathwater.

Meme

May 19th, 2010
11:42 am

Not only is the number of students over 30 a problem but also dealing with that number of parents. It is sad that in today’s world many parents think that their child is the only one that matters. Some insist that their kids be treated not only different but better. This could translate to trouble in the classroom.

Jim Williams

May 19th, 2010
11:45 am

A ridiculous study. Did the class size reduce from 100 to 97? From 10 to 7? From 50 to 47? This article and study as reported is worthless.

Jabberwocky

May 19th, 2010
11:47 am

Again…and again ad infinitum….correlation DOES NOT mean causation. One can find research to prove almost any point you want to make.

As a long time teacher: give me a class of 40 well behaved, capable students over 15 disruptive, unmotivated rascals every year.

Just an aside….and hopefully no offense to anyone….
One year our principal was considering arranging at least some classes for the following year that were separated by gender. He asked if anyone would be interested in trying that approach , One of my colleagues quickly raised a hand and said , “Absolutely…I would be delighted to have ” all the little Asian girls”. If the shoe fits…..

drew (former teacher)

May 19th, 2010
11:47 am

Catlady says:
“I can say for a fact it is a nightmare when kids have been promoted without the skills they need for success at the next level, without even taking into account the needs of sped (including BD), and ESOL kids.”

And SDM says:
“An underlying assumption for smaller class size is that the best instruction is one-on-one, individualized instruction. When teachers approach teaching from that perspective, instead of seeking the best group/mass instruction, then they won’t be as effective as they can be.”

Both have touched on what I believe to be one of the toughest challenges facing teachers today. Teaching today is carried out pretty much just like it was 100 years ago…put a teacher in a room full of students and teach them all the same thing at the same time. And for the longest time, this approach seems to have worked. Unfortunately, times have changed. The homogenous classroom of yesteryear has vanished. As Catlady pointed out, and as every teacher knows, students are routinely “socially” promoted, without having acquired the necessary skills they will need to be successful at the next level.

I believe the more one-on-one instruction that can be provided, the better, especially with the neediest students. Because students’ abilities vary so greatly, perhaps group/mass instruction is not the best way to teach.

There may be a few super teachers out there that can reach ALL of their students, but my experience is that “mass teaching” bores the advanced students, and works OK with the average students, and allows the neediest students to slip through the cracks (at least until they turn 16 and drop out). It caters to the middle of the road, and gives lip service to the higher and lower level learners. And everybody loses. And when you toss the special needs students and the chronically disruptive students into the mix, it becomes even more difficult, if not impossible, to reach all of the students .

Maybe it’s time for the “group model” to be questioned. The classroom today is not the classroom of our parents. Mass instruction made sense when parents valued education, the students came to school respectful and ready to learn, discipline problems were dealt with appropriately, and students were not routinely “advanced” for social reasons. And I’m not even going to get into the challenge that special needs students bring to the classroom. The classroom has totally changed from what it was 100 years ago, but the teaching model (large group instruction) hasn’t changed with it.

My daughter graduated from a private boarding school in which 40-50 students sat at cubicles in a large room, and proceeded with their lessons at their own pace, with a teacher present to provide one-on-one assistance as needed. She’s attending college now, and doing quite well.

So with the challenges of today’s modern classroom, might this individualized approach have some merit? Or perhaps we can just do away with the compulsory nature of education, provide every student who wants one with a laptop, an internet connection, and a local facility (library or school bldg) to provide additional assistance as needed.

I’m just saying…there has got to be a better way.

Jabberwocky

May 19th, 2010
11:51 am

I just re-read my post…..Lest someone misunderstand……..Just for clarity, young Asian girls at least in our school, were always hard workers, motivated, and well behaved. Emphasis on WELL BEHAVED AND MOTIVATED. Both make a huge difference in the success of the whole class.

@Matt

May 19th, 2010
11:51 am

but where does the increase end? A couple more one year, then a couple more within the following five years…what is the quantitative cap on class size?

Love2Teach

May 19th, 2010
11:55 am

Having taught in schools from the Bronx to Atlanta and even the suburbs of Atlanta, the study has validity despite its slight vagueness. However, the real factor missing which every commentator seems to be sidestepping is the PARENTS. I wouldn’t mind a class of 35 – 40 (teachers are used to working hard at grading papers and pressure) if those students all had the PARENTS doing their job to ensure appropriate behavior, completion of assignments and prepared students every day. The studies should really be conducted on the parents who think their children are perfect and do no wrong, yet carry and use illegal substances, engage in sex in bathrooms and under stairwells and have no hesitation to curse at their teachers and administrators. I’d willingly teach 50 in a class if it meant I would be guaranteed 100% of the support from the home front.