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Friday, December 08, 2006

Does a Smaller Class Size Really Matter? YES!

Our school's resource center sends out a weekly email with links to various articles related to education. I found this one from the Chicago Sun-Times to be particularly interesting. It discusses current research into the impact class size can have on student learning. 15 students seems to be the optimum size, however most schools have about 22 students per class.

I have had personal experience with this in the past two years. Last year, I had 16 students. It was my smallest class ever. It was bliss. Working at center time was a breeze, because it was easy to monitor 4 groups of 4 children each. The students were on task a majority of the time, and were able to be very independent in their work. This year, I have 21 students. You wouldn't think 5 more makes a difference, but it does. Center time is more about putting out fires and trying to help several students simultaneously while the others are either working or goofing off than about the students being self motivated.

Story time, writing time, and math time are all different too. With a smaller class, I could get into better discussions about a story, as there were fewer who were whispering to their neighbors, or staring off into space. They could all concentrate on sounding out the words in their journals because the general noise level was less. During math I could spot help the students who needed it without holding the rest of the class up. I also noticed a difference with the end of the year reading levels for last year's group. They were about a level higher than previous years.

So smaller classes are great, yes. The problem is money.

Shrinking all kindergarten classes by one student would cost $2.3 million; reducing them to 15 kids would cost about $18 million; and trimming all K-3 classes to 15 would cost about $173 million, CPS officials estimate. "For class size reduction to make a difference, you'd have to reduce class size to levels that are so small that most school districts cannot afford it,'' said Thomas Carroll, president of the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future.

"Districts can get more for their money by improving teacher quality.''
However, my rebuttal to that is the fact that teacher quality can be directly improved by reducing class size, because a smaller class means he/she can teach more effectively, without needing any special "training." I'm also realistic though, and know that the bottom line is often what matters. All I can do is hope our local population shrinks again, if I want a class of only 16 children.


Stidmama said...

All educators, even highly-trained and experienced teachers have better success with smaller class sizes. This is true of all grades and subjects, but is especially important in kindergarten and first grade, when not just children but often parents are new to the whole "schooling" thing and need extra encouragement and help.

And of course, looking at it in the long run, the costs would be made up in better outcomes throughout children's entire schooling. There would be greater success at all levels because they started out with a better base for learning. More students would stay in school, performing at higher levels overall.

Students who need extra help might be identified earlier because the teachers would have a better chance of deciding that lack of engagement was a function of disability rather than distraction...

And let's talk about the cost again. A single Stealth bomber cost about 2 billion dollars...

It's all a matter of priorities.

featherbee said...

All excellent points! Especially the Stealth bomber...