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Opinion: Class Size Matters

Sandy Asper discusses the need for smaller class sizes in the Newport-Mesa Unified School District.

I did my student teaching in a 4th grade class of 47 students on a half day schedule in a small portable room in Charter Oak School District.

Half of the kids came at 7 a.m. and went home early. Half came at 8:30 and went home late. My experienced and trusting master teacher (Mrs. Francisco) had me prepare exactly two lessons and then said, "I'll see you around Christmas," and she wasn't kidding.  Oh, there were a few "Francisco sightings" occasionally, but nothing serious. Those hours that I had them all together in that small portable was a real test...of practically everything.

In the 90's the economy was just swell, and there appeared to be money for teachers' salaries, materials, technology and almost everything that was needed, yet I never had less than 30 students in any class.

When I retired from Ensign I was responsible for around 178 students every day.

There was that magic moment when Gray Davis recognized the value of teachers and the benefits of small classroom size, and California limited the class size in K-3 to 20 students, a situation which only lasted a few years.

The studies regarding the correlation between class size and student achievement have been mixed, as all studies seem to be, especially regarding education. Most studies have leaned toward the notion that class size reduction results in better students. The Tennessee STAR experiment found that "small classes (15-17) in kindergarten through third grade provide short and long term benefits for students, teachers and society at large ... poor, minority,  and male students reap extra benefits in terms of improved test outcomes, school engagement and reduced grade retention and dropout rates."

To which I say "Duh!"

Any teacher will tell you that having fewer students in their class will result in gains, not only in test scores, but in other less tangible benefits: student self-confidence, student true understanding, student participation, student inclusiveness, and most importantly, student success in life at the time and later.

Many high school and intermediate teachers  have  told me that one of the great benefits of smaller classrooms is the ease of classroom management. In a class of 33-40 students, at least 10 of those students will try to disrupt the class almost every day no matter how experienced and adept the teacher is. As you can imagine, this takes valuable time from classroom activities and instruction. Then add to the mix, the individual issues of the students themselves which ALWAYS play a part of instruction : family struggles, poverty, abuse, special needs, learning disabilities and many more.

Teachers are expected to "differentiate" which means to craft their lessons to every child in their care..obviously an impossible task.

Imagine how the test scores would soar if classes were reduced to a reasonable number...let's say 20 students across the board for elementary school, intermediate school, and high school. Imagine how it would impact the individual student who would have a chance to believe in their own abilities.

So, why is it that administrators (including Newport-Mesa) have not recognized the irrefutable fact that having fewer kids = better scores and well educated students?

Just Sayin...

 

Kimberly Claytor November 25, 2012 at 06:11 PM
Good article Sandy. The benefits of small class sizes are well known and documented. It's my understanding that you have to get below 20 students per class to gain the most immediate and lasting benefits. And it's not just the student that benefits from her success - the public benefits too! Unfortunately, the public must be willing to fund small class sizes in order to reap those benefits. For now, the echo chamber simply calls educators whiners when we call for smaller class size. They say we are lazy and just don't want to work! It is unfortunate that the loudest voices - those who want to destroy rather than improve public education - seem to have the most power on education policy. Parents agree with teachers on this matter - they know their own children are better off in smaller classes. Keep up the good work in educating the public on important matters that make a huge difference for all involved.
James Rogers November 28, 2012 at 06:08 PM
Sandy, great article about "Class Size Reduction." Thank you for keeping the subject on the front burner. I remember for years the mantra proclaimed by administrators saying that there was no correlation between class size and learning. What they failed to realize was the fact that the number of students in a classroom determined the amount of individualize attention that the teacher would be able to give each child. One minor correction, the program was initiated in 1996 when Pet Wilson was Governor. School districts had less than six months to accommodate for the additional personnel and classrooms or forgo the state funding. The companies that built the portable classrooms made a killing during that time.
Charles December 16, 2012 at 03:28 PM
"why is it that administrators (including Newport-Mesa) have not recognized the irrefutable fact that having fewer kids = better scores and well educated students?" Is this a valid question? Do administrators not recognize this?
Lawrene Bottorf December 17, 2012 at 10:23 PM
Times have sure changed...I was always in classes with 40+ kids in a government school, and if someone misbehaved or couldn't keep up, the proper actions were taken.

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