A member of our Teacher Leaders Network discussion group wrote:
Recently, I read an article by Chris Whittle, the founder/leader of Edison Schools — that's the private group that is taking over public schools in some systems. He made a point that I found intriguing.
He said that we should INCREASE class sizes to 30+ and reduce the number of teachers that we have in the classroom. He said that until you drop to 15 kids per class, lower class sizes don't make a significant difference, and you can take the funds you would use to hire more teachers to meet class-size reduction requirements and spend it instead on pay raises for quality teachers.
Jay Greene, the conservative author of the new book Education Myths, argues that the more you reduce class sizes, the lower the quality of teacher you are putting into classrooms. It's a simple math thing to him. There aren't enough high-quality teachers available, so the more you need, the lower the quality will be.
Do you think class size initiatives lead to fewer and fewer qualified teachers in our classrooms?
A TLN colleague in Virginia replied:
When I read things like, "until you drop to 15 kids per class, lower class sizes don't make a significant difference," I'm glad I took statistics. While it may not make a "statistically significant difference" to have 20 students versus 30 students in a classroom, I argue that it does make an "educationally significant difference."
I do agree that one of the reasons California's reduced class-size initiative didn't show a corresponding increase in student achievement is that there weren't enough qualified teachers to teach the smaller classes. This is kind of a "duh" — if you put an unqualified person into a teaching position, chances are probably pretty good that student achievement will not increase in their classrooms.
I don't think there's any easy answer to the class size versus teacher supply issue. I know I am much more effective at individualizing instruction when I have fewer students, and I believe that individualizing instruction results in maximized student learning and achievement. But, where are the additional teachers going to come from if we don't provide sufficient monetary incentives for people to enter and stay in the profession?
A TLN member in Miami wrote:
Do class size initiatives lead to fewer and fewer qualified teachers in our classrooms?
It was certainly true at my school that class-size initiatives made it harder to find qualified teachers. In hiring additional teachers, the candidates for the job were not what we would hope for, and the administration "settled" for warm bodies v. quality teachers. This often led to kids in "double dipped" classes of math and reading being taught by incredibly ineffective teachers.
One of the other issues (at least here in Miami) of lowering class size is WHERE to put the increased number of classes on the schedule. What this led to at my school was that every space was shared. A dozen or so teachers "floated", which was awful for them. They were the newest hires, and the most insecure in the art of teaching — and here they had to change environments every class period. For those of us with classrooms, we lost all access to our rooms during non-teaching times. As I look back, this was a huge factor in my being open to the opportunity which led to my job change.
A Michigan teacher commented:
This is one of those excellence vs. equity questions where everyone wants to believe you can have your cake and eat it, too. But maybe you can't. In that case, give me excellence over slightly less personal attention—if "slightly" is the operant word.
When you spread class size initiatives over a large district, you have to hire a LOT of teachers, just to reduce average class size by one or two kids. Now I know that early childhood teachers will tell you that the difference between even 20 and 18 kids is enormous, but if I had a choice between 28 kids and an experienced teacher vs. 18 kids and a marginal one, I'd go with Door #1, every time.