Friday, May 04, 2007

People Really Need to Pay Attention: Smaller Classes Will Not Work

I have said this repeatedly, just simply reducing the size of a class will not improve performance. Even if the reductions are targeted, it still is not going to work. Lindalyn Kakadelis (that's quite a moniker) says the same thing over at Edspresso:
How do we ensure poor students attain grade level proficiency? Increasingly, policymakers are latching on to class-size reduction as a cure-all, imbuing smaller classes with the power to eradicate intractable achievement gaps. While shrinking class size can be a good thing (after all, what parent wants their child in larger classes with fewer teachers?), research suggests it’s no quick fix for struggling schools.

But that’s not stopping educators and lawmakers in North Carolina. Since 2000, the State Board of Education and the General Assembly have implemented class-size reduction with little effect on student performance. The Charlotte Mecklenburg School Board has just jumped on board after reviewing the 2007-08 school budget, adding another 40 teachers to high-poverty elementary schools.

If simply padding teaching staff at low-performing or low-income schools isn’t the answer, what is? For starters, we need to get back to basics, reexamining the kinds of teachers we put in the classroom. Rather than blithely ascribing to a "strength in numbers" philosophy of education, we need to pay more attention to teacher quality. Having more teachers doesn’t make a school successful, but having good teachers assuredly does.
Kakadelis is referring to the Hamilton Project Report, which argues for changes in assessing teacher quality, changes that would emphasize flexibility and classroom efficacy over credentials.

But lets us leave the Hamilton report aside. Even under ideal conditions, and we know teacher hiring has never had, nor will ever have, ideal conditions. The more teachers you hire, by simple numberics, the fewer teachers of quality you will have. It doesn't matter how you define quality, there are only so many people with that quality. Sure, you might get lucky, but do we really want to depend on luck to hire teachers?

I simply don't understand why school systems and state policy makers don't understand the math.


Polski3 said...

It is not necessarily about teacher quality. IF beginning teachers are not properly supported, as in training about reality in a classroom, not the theory and crap "taught" at too many Colleges of Education, given the help they need on classroom management, the materials they need to teach, etc., they can be successful.

That being said, I'd like to invite these people who say class size does not matter demonstrate to us how to teach a class of 35-45 non-english speaking/understanding children, a lab science class of 30-40 8th - 9th graders.......

In many instances, IMO, smaller is better. There are other concerns other than money and test scores, such as success in learning and safety.

Matt Johnston said...


With all due respect to teachers out there, it really is about teacher quality. However, it is not ALL about teacher quality. The highest quality teacher without proper support will fail, the only difference is that they will fail less spectacularly than a lesser quality teacher.

Also, the intense focus on smaller class sizes without anything else will not improve student learning, there are simply too many studies that demonstrate that conclusion.

I have no doubt that teaching large classes with mixed student populations is hard, the fact of the matter is that just reducing the number of students per teacher is a numerical farce. The appeal of smaller class sizes from a policy standpoint is that it is easy to attain and easy to spin from a PR perspective ("we will hire more teachers and spend more money on buidling bigger schools for fewer students") and the result are numerically appealing, i.e. we have more teachers, smaller student/teacher ratios and a higher per pupil expenditure, from a results oriented perspective, it simply is not worth the money.