Friday, March 4, 2011

Larger Classes Sizes?!

With the economy bad and districts looking to save money, the first thing they do is suggest larger class sizes. Imagine teaching 40 students in 50 minutes. Do you think you would be an effective teacher?

Large Classes can be a Large Problem
By Anne O'Brien on January 7, 2011

In times of fiscal crisis, which few would dispute most districts are in, we have been hearing a bit about “smart” increases in class size. Some are advocating for states to remove class size mandates all together.

In the past, this blog has supported class size reduction. Certainly, the evidence makes it clear to me that small classes, particularly in the early years and for our most disadvantaged students, can improve academic outcomes.

But the flip side of class size debates is not articulated nearly as frequently as it should be. The debate is not only about the benefits of small classes. It is also about the problems that can come with large classes.

I was reminded of this recently thanks to a Detroit Free Press article on the problems resulting from a teacher shortage in Detroit Public Schools. Among them (and there are a lot) are large class sizes. Teachers at nearly a third of Detroit’s schools – 44 of 140 – report classes over the limits outlined in their contract.

These large classes are overwhelming teachers – having 40 to 50 students in a class makes it hard for them to control students and guide their learning. One 24-year veteran who averages more than 40 students in her five classes said: “I’ve won awards. I am a champion teacher. … This is the first time I’ve felt inadequate.”

These classes also upset students. One high school senior pointed out that class sizes are so large that classrooms do not have enough seats. Some students have to stand or go into the hallway. It makes them feel unimportant.

And the biggest problem is that kids aren’t getting the education they deserve. As classes grow, there is less individualized instruction. Teachers struggle to keep up with basic work. As a teacher who works at one of the most successful high schools in the city points out, grading nearly 200 papers three times a week takes “hours upon hours.” She gets behind. And she doesn’t suggest any alternatives, but one is giving students less rigorous work, (or just less work in general) because it’s easier to grade. But as research is demonstrating the importance of high expectations for students, that really is a non-starter for most educators.

So when we talk about things like getting rid of class size mandates to save money, we have to consider the negative implications. Of course, no one would argue that “smart” class size increases would support 40+ students in a class, particularly at lower grades. But if there are no limits on class sizes, what will stop it from happening? The intentions of changing these policies may be good…but there could be some very bad consequences.

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