What does the research say? Does size matter?

Discussion in 'General Education' started by chinamom, May 22, 2008.

  1. chinamom

    chinamom Rookie

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    May 22, 2008

    My soon to be former principal, and many administrators, in my county are always saying that "the research" shows that class size makes no difference in student performance.(meaning test scores-- that is the end all and be all, right?) Conversely, I have seen in the past research that supports the idea that smaller class sizes, for a variety of reasons and in a variety of ways, are beneficial to students. This is my first and only year in a public school, and most of the classes in our 4th grade this year were maxed out or almost maxed out at 28. I come from a private school background where the class size ranged anywhere from 4-18 students. In my experience personally, I feel it is easier to meet the individual needs of students if there are fewer. Just makes reasonable sense. Now, I would agree w/ the argument that a really good, really experienced teacher can work wonders with 30 kids just as a mediocre or really inexperienced teacher can struggle w/ 18. But I'm curious, since in this county the admin seems all about the idea that "size doesn't matter". I think it does. I could google the topic and find all kinds of stuff to support both ideas, I'm sure, but has anyone run across any research, which supports either side of the argument, that you've found really compelling?

    What do you all think?

    Chinamom
     
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  3. bonneb

    bonneb Fanatic

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    I know there is recent research that says children do better in a smaller class for just the reasons you have mentioned - the teacher has more time one-on-one. I read a study about it but for the life of me I can't remember where.

    No matter how good or experienced a teacher is, you cannot give 25-30 kids the individualized attention you could give to 15-20.
     
  4. Amers

    Amers Cohort

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    May 22, 2008

    I haven't really looked into the research, but I just don't see how a class with 30 kids in can get the indivudalized instruction and help that they need. Just my :2cents:
     
  5. aek471

    aek471 Rookie

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    Ha! I have 34 students this year and only had 21 my first year teaching. Guess which year my kids did better - that's right, my first year, when I barely had a clue what I was doing anyway! It's just impossible to get to every kid when you have a big class. I've taught a lesson and then come back and found out later that some kids were not getting it at all - but I didn't know because I didn't have the time (or just didn't realize!) that I wasn't getting to them all! I'm just waiting for next year - there are only 17 kids in the kindergarten classroom and I can't wait to have that small class again!
     
  6. SSA

    SSA Companion

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    May 23, 2008

    Obviously every teacher has a certain point after which their ability to manage the students goes downhill to the point that it shows up in student achievement. Some teachers can manage 30-35 with ease and some are rather to have a nervous breakdown at anything over 30. It all depends upon the teacher and equally importantly the students. Generally speaking older students don't require as much one on one attention as younger students. Students with disabilities obviously need more attention as well.

    One of the most cited studies I am aware of on the topic of class size reduction is the Tennessee Project STAR, which has a pretty rosy view of class size reduction as being beneficial. While there is certainly ample corresponding evidence with the various states that have experimented with CSR that it improves performance in the grade where it is used the evidence that the benefits have lasting benefits are more controversial. When students that had been through CSR in the lower elementary grades reached middle school in CA, there was no notably bump in test scores like the Tennessee Project STAR and other proponents of CSR promised.

    In elementary school I think you can make a compelling case for smaller classes, but in HS in a lot of schools there is a trade off between class size and teacher qualifications especially in Math and Science courses. If you can get people with a degree in what they are teaching for every teacher you hire and you can still afford sufficient support stuff and classroom materials then I don't see why you would say no, but that is rarely the case.

    One on one attention isn't too useful if the teacher is in over their head teaching the class. Anyone who attended a subpar HS, can no doubt remember having a teacher who clearly struggled teaching the class because the teacher was teaching a subject where they had little educational background.

    Having gone to a so-so HS, I can tell you that the classes that I felt I learned the most in HS weren't necessarily the one's with the smallest classes, but the one's that had the best instructors. The physics instructor who failed the state subject preparation exam two times before passing it was a complete waste of time. I learned far more from the physics teacher was a retired exploratory geologist.

    When I was in HS, my AP US History teacher allowed his classes to exceed what the district normally allowed to 36-38. If every student showed up on a given day I recall he had a student sitting at his desk. You would think that this would be a terrible performing course, but that couldn't be further from the truth.

    He had a doctorate in History so needless to say he knew the material like the back of his hand and had an incredible zeal for the topic in his lectures that was infectious. He knew every student's name and he had a 80%+ passage rate on the AP exam nevermind that our school demographics weren't favorable. We had a large immigrant student body and we didn't have a placement test to weed out students like a lot of other schools. It is easy to have a great passage rate if you weed out all except the best students, but it takes a great educator to have wide success when you aren't so picky.

    There is no question that I would have taken his class over again as opposed to a class with 18 kids with a teacher whom didn't have his zeal and expertise for the subject.

    Jaime Escalente notably had classes that hit 50 students and despite the conventional wisdom his students excelled. Ultimately, the criticism of his class sizes amongst other factors resulted in him leaving Garfield HS.

    I'm not aware of any examples of anyone who had a large enrollment in the elementary grades doing being able to be successful. Maybe someone can shine a light on somebody who proves it can be done, but I certainly have never heard of it.

    From both anecdotally evidence and various research on the effect that lower quality teachers have on students acheivement in secondary education I think within reason that we should put teacher quality as a higher priority at least in secondary education.

    Ultimately I don't think there is a one size fits all answer to how big classes ought to be. While I strongly believe that we need to improve teacher quality in secondary math and science education I can see depending upon the circumstances that you can come up with a variety of numbers.
     
  7. ChangeAgent

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    May 23, 2008

    SSA, I would disagree on high school students being more capable of larger class sizes. My kids (basic/academic-level high school freshman and sophomores AND learning support students) would benefit greatly from smaller class sizes. Yes, honors and AP classes can be packed (even if the teacher does not do well) and succeed. At least in my experiece, the average high schooler would greatly benefit from small class sizes (which could also reduce the amount of potential drama in any given class!).
     
  8. Rabbitt

    Rabbitt Connoisseur

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    May 23, 2008

    Besides more individualized instruction and one and one time,
    the kids are just happier and thus continue to enjoy school.
    Sometimes it is forgotten that they need to also love life, feel love, and feel safe.

    Teachers also do not get burned out as quickly.

    If clas sizes are going to be large, then they need to hire me a secretary so I can concentrate on the teaching.
     
  9. chinamom

    chinamom Rookie

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    Interesting points, definitely. I did a little research myself, and it seems like one of the issues was that the achievement gap was not reduced and that high-achieving kids did better in smaller classes while it didn't make as much difference for low-achieving kids. And obviously money and logistics, and having enough qualified teachers are all issues.

    I totally agree that the quality of the teacher is key. I too remember instructors in high school and college that gave lectures to hundreds of people and those lectures were riveting b/c they knew their subject and had a passion for it. Likewise, I took a jazz piano class w/ just me and one other student and the prof was just lifeless and it sucked. And clearly higher grade levels can handle more people.

    I guess I'm looking at it too personally maybe. I just know that I could connect so much better, be so much more in tune w/ my students and their needs when I had 15 than I could this year w/ 28. I know that the quiet, "average" students got less of my attention than the ones that were more demanding in terms of their behavior or their academics.

    I do know this based on experience. When kids come from huge schools w/ huge classes to a small environment, they can sometimes find a comfort zone they didn't have before. They can be more willing to try things and find talents they didn't know they had. They can more personally connect with the adults and children they spend most of their time with. I saw it over and over again when I worked in a small environment. I saw kids who fell through the cracks in a large public school blossom right before our eyes. And the kids were looked at like human beings, and not walking test scores. There are just so many other aspects to a child than state test scores. The meeting I sat through yesterday just confirmed my decision to leave. The principal suggested that the students who didn't pass the state tests should not be going to PE, art, music, but instead have to spend that time working on their weak subject areas. I know we want to help those students who are struggling, but COME ON. If it were my own children, I'd be livid at that suggestion. It was so clear that this admin. is not looking at these kids as whole people and I find it appalling. Maybe they're trying to save their own a--es, and their jobs are on the line. So next year I move on! I've really come to the conclusion this environment is not for me.
     
  10. chinamom

    chinamom Rookie

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    May 23, 2008

    Rabbitt, I didn't see your post before I posted.

    Well said! And with far fewer words!
     
  11. MissV

    MissV Companion

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    May 25, 2008

    well geez, if size didn't matter, wouldn't it make sense from an economic standpoint just to corral everyone into a giant gymnasium with speakers and have one teacher teach them all?

    oh man talk about efficiency!!!
     
  12. Canadian Gal

    Canadian Gal Habitué

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    Miss V - Why even put them in a gym? Why not just put the notes on the internet and let the kids teach themselves? That way we wouldn't need schools at all. LOL
     
  13. cutNglue

    cutNglue Magnifico

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    Hehe... I took college classes with 500 students in one class and it took skilled teachers to draw us in.
     
  14. mmswm

    mmswm Moderator

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    As Mark Twain once said, "There's lies, dam lies, and statistics." As a statistician by education, I could explain the thousands of ways statistics can be manipulated by somebody trying to "prove" their point of view (I won't bore you with a math lecture). Many of the studies that claim that size doesn't matter rely on statistical manipulation and others ignore other, yet no less important, variables. On the flip side, anecdotal evidence is also not reliable. So what can we do? We can insist on less biased "studies" in which the other affecting variables are controlled. We can insist that the statistics be compiled in a statistically sound manner. We can also dig way back into our brains and try to remember that stats course we were forced to take (okay, in my case there was a lot of them, and I wasn't forced, as that was my concentration area :D ) and apply what we learned when we read the results of those questionable "studies" and call the admins who push them on their bull.

    Reliable research shows that the trend is for smallish classes, with some leeway in what is defined as "small" (depending mostly on age group, but there are other factors as well, like teacher skill and special needs of students). Yes, there are exceptions, but those are exactly that...exceptions.
     
  15. TeacherGroupie

    TeacherGroupie Moderator

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    May 25, 2008

    Well said, mmswm.

    And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why a first-grade teacher needs to know math. And logic. And history. And science (see scientific method). And so on. It's all about ensuring that admins (who are likely to be pretty shaky on their own knowledge) don't believe they can treat the first-grade teacher like a Sweet Young Thing Who Can Be Bulled Or Bullied.
     
  16. mmswm

    mmswm Moderator

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    Thank you tg. And your point is very well said yourself :)
     
  17. TeacherGroupie

    TeacherGroupie Moderator

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    Thank you, my dear.
     
  18. MissFroggy

    MissFroggy Aficionado

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    I don't know what the research says, but I have 13 students. I talk and work with each one every day. I know their strengths and weaknesses. No one is left to work on their own while I spend my time dealing with a few behavior problems that overwhelm the class. (I do have some problem kids, but with only 13 it's manageable.)

    I am able to do individual reading conferences, spelling lists and homework assignments for my kiddos. I read with every kid every week. The books I have read say to do 5 minute reading conferences, but I am usually able to conference and read with each child for 15 minutes a week as well as do guided reading, etc. With 13 kids I don't need any kind of management system (flipping cards type thing) or rewards! They do great without those things because I can personally handle any kind of problem almost immediately and can also personally "reward" the kids with compliments or just spending time with them..

    I know that even having 18 kids was a lot harder than 15, and when I had 29 I couldn't do ANYTHING I do now.

    I feel VERY lucky!
     
  19. FarFromHome

    FarFromHome Connoisseur

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    In my district there aren't enough teachers available, or money to hire more, to have smaller classes. I had 25 all year, but the teacher next door to me had 19 for a while. When I was student teaching, I had 29.
     
  20. SSA

    SSA Companion

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    This is the problem that I see is that not every school can have sub 20 class sizes without giving up something(smaller supply budgets, less support staff, lower salaries, etc.)

    If you can afford to have small classes without noticeably losing other things than by all means go right ahead, but for a lot of schools their budgets don't make that possible. Having small classes would be nice, but not if you lose virtually all of your budget for textbooks and other classroom supplies.

    As long as a good chunk of educational funding doesn't reach the classroom you will have to try to fine tune class size for your student body so that you keep class management issues manageable while not going so small that you can't maintain reasonable budgets for supplies and or keeping salaries competitive with other districts. This is what is wrong with CSR in CA. Some schools might do better with 22-24:1 student to teacher ratio and using the additional funds to hire a paraprofessional and or improve classroom materials, but once you go one over the limit you lose all CSR funding.

    I've seen a lot of schools that desperately need to spend more for materials. You can have the best teacher money can buy, but if your materials are falling apart good luck doing a lot of activities that would benefit a good part of the student population.
     
  21. elizak83

    elizak83 Companion

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    Last year..my first year teaching..I had 18 students in my class. It wasn't hard to manage, even as a first year teacher. This year..I have 25 students with a lot of behavior issues..it's been more of a challenge to meet everyones needs..Next year they said b/c of budget cuts I would have 30 kids...I prefer smaller class sizes..unfortunately money is the main factor.
     
  22. Miss Kirby

    Miss Kirby Fanatic

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    May 26, 2008

    I hate to admit this, but this feels like my classroom. :(

    Here's been my experience with class sizes:
    Student teaching in 2nd grade - 29 kids
    1/2 year in 2nd grade - 28 kids
    1st year in 1st grade - started with 22 ended up with 18
    2nd year in 2nd grade - started with 22 ended up with 26, plus one CD student during math

    I've had significant behavior problems each year and feel like I'm spending most of my one-on-one time with the behavior kids. This isn't how it should be, and it's not good for kids! :down: I miss having 18 kids in first grade!
     

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