Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Class Sizes

The following information was sent to an education list of which I am a member. I've received permission to reprint the entire email here; obviously, the topic is smaller class sizes (something my school knows nothing about!).

It's interesting to note that the class size effect has been measured for CA's 5,000 elementary schools. Buried in a technical report are the regression coefficients of selected variables that predict the School Characteristic Index (SCI). Among the socioeconomic variable that schools have no control over (parent education, free/reduced price lunch, ethnic composition) are two variables that a school can control - Average Class Size for K-3 and for 4-6. The coefficient for K-3 is -0.1644 meaning that a school's SCI will increase 0.1644 points if the average class size is reduced by one student.

See Coefficient Model 1 on page 4 of

But we're really not concerned with SCI. We'd really like to know how class size might affect a school's Academic Performance Index (API). No problem! There is a formula for moving from the SCI to the predicted API. Predicted API=8*SCI -600. Therefore the expected API gain for reducing class size by one student (20 to 19) in grades K-3 is a miniscule (8*0.1644) 1.3 points.

The gain is even smaller for class size reduction in grades 4-6.

For the PA members - CA's 1.3 point gain is about the same as a 3 point gain on the PSSA.

I'm always amazed that the popular wisdom says that class size reduction is important for improving educational outcomes. If I were a school board member I'd be investigating whether it might make sense to let class sizes increase at the elementary level and invest the resulting savings on some other more effective educational initiative. (If I remember correctly, CA had a referendum passed a decade or so ago mandating class size reduction which was later reversed.)

No, this is not an argument for increasing class sizes. It might be an argument for spending class size reduction money on more efficient methods of improving student performance, however.


Coach Brown said...

I pretty "on the fence" regarding class sizes. I love larger (25 or so) classes (I have 34 now) because in Government, everyone has something to say and the more people, the better exposure. It is also more condusive to richer simulations, more questions, and a slew of positive things.

However, I do understand that many kids need more attention, hence the class size reduction issue. Parents often complain that teachers don't pay enough attention to their kid. Teachers also have a lot of work to grade with classes of 35 students (times 5 classes is a lot of essays).

I like 25. Under 20 is too few, over 27 is getting too impacted.

rightwingprof said...

Ken at D-Ed Reckoning guts the class size myth quite thoroughly. And I can't say that I'm very sympathetic to the issue, given that my average class size is 250 students.

Coach Brown said...

Comparing a college classroom with a high school classroom won't work very well. You have little or no classroom mangement issues, students pay to take your class (hence ownership helping behavior), you don't have accountability to parents, and you aren't in the classroom as much.

Take 35 emotionally disabled kids for eight hours straight, or 35 kids at a 2-5 grade reading, or simply 35 hormone crazed teenagers for 8 hours. Oh, and don't forget to meet all the modifications on your 504's and IEP's, or those parents will sue your ass off.

I'd love to teach half the week, get assistants to take half my classes, write books that I force my kids to buy, get paid twice as much as people who teach kids who are younger, go on sabbaticals to write a thesis on some damn subject that often reeks of bullshit, and act as if I have a clue what teaching high school is really like.

EllenK said...

My student count for this year will be in the range of 180 students. This will cover five entry level art classes, and one AP Art History class. An example of how the classes go would be this. Class A-31 kids ranging from freshmen to seniors. Six have IEP's, two are 504's, and three have BIP's. Class B-(my "good" class)-29 kids, few freshmen, no IEP's or BIP's. Class C-33 students-seven IEP's, four BIP's, two 504's and three kids who I swear are toking during lunch. This is the period when there are no PE classes so coaches can all lunch together (isn't that nice?)and all the electives and foreign language classes are packed. Needless to say, the larger classes, especially those loaded with kids with "issues" are the hardest to teach. Harder still is to make all the modifications, variations and special assignments. I have one girl from an Asian country who speaks not one word of English. The poor child is lost and I can't really help her other to nod and smile. I am not sure if this is education or babysitting. I ditto Coach Browns remarks about hiring assistants. In my case I would paint more and grade less. But I have to grade to keep them busy since most of them have been told my class is a "blow off" class. It isn't, but they have yet to believe that they can fail. Next week is the UIL eligibility grade. I guess that is when the **** hits the fan.

Lillian said...

I have never looked at class size as a way of improving instruction. At one time, I had forty-seven 8th graders in my Chicago public school classroom, which was quite normal back in the 70's. No problem. I was not overwhelmed at all. It was, as I said...normal.

What I suggest is hiring paraprofessionals (aides) for each classroom. The problem is one of RATIO...so decrease the RATIO of student/teacher by placing another adult body in the classroom.

Not only will this improve instruction, but it will allow for another set of eyes, ears, and hands to track the goings-on of the students.

Only God Himself knows what goes on once a teacher turns his/her back on the class (writing on the board, returning to the desk, answering a phone, reaching down to pick up a pencil from the floor, etc.), but an aide might know.

EllenK said...

Back in the 70's students with serious learning and behavioral issues were not required via LRE to be in the regular ed classrooms. I have kids in my room that attend all resource or bridging classes except for my class. Needless to say they often are either lost in the crowd or so demanding of time and attention that I don't have that they end up being behavioral problems. I do try to serve all my students, but to compare the classes today to the classes 30 years ago is apples and oranges.