Class Size Pushback….

A reader named Mike left the following comment on my Problem with Class Size Reductions post yesterday: 

One teacher, 18 students. One teacher, 36 students. If you really believe that the teacher with 36 students will be able to accomplish nearly as much or devote nearly as much individual attention to their students as the teacher with 18 students, you should expect to have your lucidity questioned, and regularly.

Mike….Like so many readers, I think you’ve missed the central point of my argument.  If you reread my piece, you’ll find that we agree completely on the importance of class size reductions and the impact that fewer students can have on quality instruction.  In fact, some of my words literally mirror yours.  Here’s what I wrote:

Like a lot of other instincts, our drive for smaller class sizes is based in our desire to succeed. We know that smaller class sizes mean more individual feedback for students. We know that smaller class sizes mean more differentiation—remediation for some and enrichment for others. We know that smaller class sizes mean deeply trusting relationships with children, and that quality relationships quite simply matter. We know that what we invest in our students is directly proportional to what they will achieve.

The problem is that when large scale class size reductions are put into place, teaching quality across systems and states plummets because districts have to revert to hiring anyone who walks through the door to staff their classrooms.  Consider these thoughts from Bruinchiq, another reader:

In California, class-size reduction brought in an era of horribly unprepared educators that we are still recovering from today. Sure, teachers got some relief from an overcrowded classroom, but 20 students were now being taught by anyone who wanted to walk through the door (well, anyone that possessed a B.A.). Most teachers are not exposed to the statistical studies that show the non-impact of small class size reduction, and they are not willing to see the extreme trade-offs of the situation due to the high cost associated with smaller classrooms.

While an accomplished teacher in a room with 18 students will definitely be able to take kids to places they’ve never gone, how many accomplished teachers will we have to go around when we need to hire thousands and thousands more from a supply pool that is—quite honestly—always empty?

The central premise in my argument is that until we can ensure that all of the teachers that we hire are at least minimally prepared, class size reductions will do more harm to students than good.  While the 18 kids in your classroom are likely to get excellent service, the same argument could not be made for the 18 kids stuck in the room down the hall with an unprepared teacher new to the profession who is drowning under discipline, who doesn’t know how to structure learning, and who may have an understanding of content but not kids—-or the thousands of kids sitting in classrooms just like them.

More importantly, the children who suffer the most from these decisions are the kids in high needs schools who often end up with a higher percentage of under prepared teachers than kids in suburban communities….which only exacerbates the gap between students of wealth and students of poverty that already exists in our country.  Is that a logical decision for states to make in the interest of "improving the quality of education?"



One thought on “Class Size Pushback….

  1. Mike

    Dear Bill:
    Hi there. I did read your comments, but wasn’t responding to every issue you raised. There seems little doubt that given competent teachers, it is better to have smaller classes than larger classes, better in terms of better opportunities and potential outcomes for students. That this may well help in the retention of good teachers is a happy side effect.
    But I wonder to what degree the significant disadvantages of larger classes, say 30+ kids, offsets the problem of smaller classes with fewer qualified teachers? I’m fortunate to have classes of from 14-22 kids this semester. As a teacher of high school English, this allows me to give and grade far more assignments than I could with larger classes, hence my kids tend to improve more and more quickly. If I had to grade classes with 30+, that would certainly not be the case.
    Mandating lower class sizes may have, in some places, the unintended effect of introducing more unqualified people into the system, but this is hardly a compelling argument for larger classes. Rather, it’s an argument for better pay, benefits, greater status and perhaps for even listening to teachers in formulating policy.

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