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September 15, 2009 at 7:14 AM

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The Skinny on Class Size

Posted by Lynne Varner

My blog post on the Kent School District teachers strike elicited fervent responses, not about the strike, but about class size reduction. Most districts cap the number of students allowed in a class. Most teacher contracts include language on the maximum number of students a teacher can teach. Kent reportedly does not.

Let's talk about the philosophy behind class size reduction. The most obvious is that if we want teachers to practice differentiated teaching, i.e. changing or tweaking lesson planning, curriculum and instruction according to the kind of learner before them, they must have a manageable class load.

But the issue goes beyond should we or shouldn't we have smaller classes. Of course we should. The question is what is the optimum number? Is a small class in and of itself the answer to improving academic achievement? (Hint: I believe it won't help if done without other necessary reforms. Current budget concerns are leading few districts to do more than the state is willing to fund.
Lastly, how would we pay for smaller class sizes? The traditional way of simply taking kids out of class to create a new one is expensive? Any creative ideas out there? I've seen schools that use educational assistants to help break a class into blocks, using tables in the hallways or corners of classrooms. Students are grouped according to ability.

Efforts to address this issue are far from robust.


Liv Finne, from the Washington Policy Center, adds to the conversation. "Research consistently shows that placing an effective teacher in the
classroom is more important than any other single factor, including smaller class size, in raising student achievement."

The citation for that statement is Dan Goldhaber's research: "Teacher Pay,
The Political Implications of Recent Research,"
by Dan Goldhaber, University
of Washington and Urban Institute. Check out The Center for American Progress
to find the piece which was featured in its December 2006 issue.

Another suggestion for your reading pleasure: The Secret of TSL (Total Student Load).

Some research and interesting thoughts on class sizes is here and the essay that persuaded me that 15-18 students per teacher is most effective class size is here.

I'm including arguments for and against an emphasis on class sizes. This piece talks about the Tennessee experiment. Thoughts?

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