Sunday, January 29, 2012

Smaller Class Sizes Don't Help Students Learn Better

From the Washington Post:
Two Harvard researchers looked at the factors that actually improve student achievement and those that don’t. In a new paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research, Will Dobbie and Roland Freyer analyzed 35 charter schools, which generally have greater flexibility in terms of school structure and strategy. They found that traditionally emphasized factors such as class size made little difference, compared with some new criteria:

We find that traditionally collected input measures — class size, per pupil expenditure, the fraction of teachers with no certification, and the fraction of teachers with an advanced degree — are not correlated with school effectiveness. In stark contrast, we show that an index of five policies suggested by over forty years of qualitative research — frequent teacher feedback, the use of data to guide instruction, high-dosage tutoring, increased instructional time, and high expectations — explains approximately 50 percent of the variation in school effectiveness.
I believe this to be true, but that doesn't mean I'm going to fight for larger class sizes. At some point it becomes a matter of working conditions; it takes me a long time to grade papers from a class of 37 students--and yes, I have classes that large.

7 comments:

Happy Elf Mom said...

I have to wonder if there is some chicken/egg stuff going on here. My severely disabled son is in a class of FIVE and has his own aide. I suppose on this wise, statistics could "show" that large classes with less staff are more effective than smaller ones academically... right?

Happy Elf Mom said...

Just let me add here that his teachers and aides are THE BEST IN THE WORLD. I just don't expect them to magically use their certified brainpower/magic to heal my kid's autism. My child will simply struggle academically despite the best training, but GOOD teachers make a GREAT deal of difference for people like my son. :)

Anonymous said...

Dennis over at publiceducationdefender.blogspot.com had a thread on this subject a few years ago. The fourth comment down proposes a possible explanation for how reducing class size in non-SPED classes might not show any improvement in test scores.

http://publiceducationdefender.blogspot.com/2008/09/class-size-matters.html

-Mark Roulo

Mrs. Bluebird said...

When it comes to class size, there's a lot that you need to look at besides the number of kids. The size of the room for instance, or what's being taught. I have classes in the 28-30 range, and that's pushing the envelope (or walls) of what my room can accommodate. 37 kids would make a fire marshal have a heart attack. In addition, I'm supposed to be able to do labs in my room (we have one science lab for 9 teachers and that doesn't work very well). And trust me, you need space to do some labs. Space is something I don't have. I also don't have storage, counters, a sink or anything else most science classes have.

On a flip side, I've had classes in the past of 16-18 and I hated it. It made it difficult to move kids around since there were so few options of where someone could sit. They also got "too comfortable" due to the low number of kids and would just yell across the room at each other. I'd rather have a few more kids so I can have better mixes of kids.

Ellen K said...

I have large classes, but due the the subject I teach, I am often given kids with a very wide range of abilities. Whereas an upper level math class will by and large have college bound upperclassmen, when I have more than thirty students as many as a third of them have paperwork mandating serious adjustments into how they are taught, how they are tested, how they are positioned and what can be expected from them. Many of them have reduced instruction required. Quite often we have students who are severely disabled with no ability to speak, read, write or even get to the next class without assistance. And there are no aides. None. Zip. Nada. So when you say large classes, it's a variable that must be taken into consideration due to the federal mandates of least restrictive environment. My suggestion is that when students have an IEP in place, they should be counted in the class count as two students. Similarly, students who have 504's or BIP's should also be weighted in terms of class counts. It's not that we don't want them in class, but I literally have twelve kids in my second period who must all be "seated by the teacher" in their paperword. Short of cloning myself, that's impossible.

Anonymous said...

I wish the term "least restricted environment" would go away. Many of these kids need to be out of the regular classroom to better enable the kids that want to learn the opportunity to truly get a great education...

The sped kids need to be challenged, definitely but not at the expense of others...

Sorry, I have seen mainstreaming disrupt my kids too many times...So fortunate that ended up in either academic magnets with very few sped kids or private with fewer...

There truly needs to be a better way to make this work for the all kids and the teachers...

Ellen K said...

@Anonymous:
I hear you. We are harangued by administrators to offer challenging high tech courses, but are saddled with students who cannot turn on a computer nor sit in a chair for longer than ten minutes. I have had students who punch themselves if I don't immediately attend to their needs. I have had students who blurt out profanity to the delight of those slackers in class that would rather not work anyway. And when we try to get a handle on it we are told that the parents want these kids to be treated as normal in spite of the fact they simply are not now nor ever will be average. We are spending billions to "educate" populations that will never contribute. What is worse, if you have a recognized good SpEd dept, you end up with more families with special needs students moving into the area. What does that do to the school rankings or SAT scores?