Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Class Sizes and Quality Teachers

Joanne Jacobs riffs on a Jay Mathews column, which indicates that smaller class sizes works on a targeted basis, i.e. for kids learning to read in say K-3 or for poor students who are behind for whatever reason. Jacobs notes:
However, when California reduced K-3 classes to 20 students, teacher quality declined, especially at schools serving low-income, minority students. That wiped out any benefits. A research consortium “found no relationship between statewide student achievement and statewide participation in class size reduction.” To keep classes small, schools are cutting funds for libraries, after-school programs and teacher training.(link in original omitted)
Quite some time ago, I made the argument that smaller class sizes actually defeats the purpose of having the highest quality teachers and paying them a salary they are worth. There is another obstacle to reducing class sizes that almost never gets talked about--classroom space. As I said over two years ago:
The most finite resource in any school system is not teachers, or money, and certainly not students. No classroom space is the single most precious commodity. Simply hiring teachers without expanding classroom space will strain the space resources of any school.

For example, let us assume a school in growing Frederick county has 850 students (which is pretty close to the average size in Frederick) and a student teacher ratio of 16:1 (which is the Frederick average), this means that there are 56 or 57 teachers in the school. Assuming that each teacher has his/her own classroom in which to work, there must be 56 or 57 classrooms. Let us assume again, for the sake of argument that the school has 60 spaces available for classrooms. When the new 10 percent of teachers is hired, you will be getting 6 new teachers, but there are only at best 3 available classrooms. Where will you put the other three teachers?
Simply reducing class sizes, in addition to the downward pressure on pay and teacher quality, strains the physical as well as monetary resources of a school system.

It is far better to have quality teachers than simply quantity.

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