Does Class Size Matter?
The start of the school year is upon us. And with that, we may have concerns for our child’s new classroom environment.
With budget cuts affecting schools across the country, many children will be learning in classrooms with more students.
It’s understandable why schools do this; bumping up the student:teacher ratio by just one student would save over $12 billion (yes, billion) per year in teacher salary alone, according to the Brookings Institute. (I triple-checked that number, it was so hard to believe!)
Will this make it harder for our children to learn?
In his book David And Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits And The Art Of Battling Giants, Malcolm Gladwell states that smaller class sizes do not necessarily boost the learning environment. Too few students, he states, lead to sensitive group dynamics, where one or two students are more likely to dominate the culture of the group and disrupt others.
Alright, so maybe less is not more when it comes to class size. But still…doesn’t it make sense that too many kids = too nutty of an environment?
According to educational research, the results are mixed. The largest study on this topic, known as the STAR study conducted in Tennessee in the 1980’s, found that reducing class size increases student achievement, especially in the early grades. Several other studies found his too, but others found no increase in achievement. To muddy the waters even more, there are few studies that are solid enough to give either side of the argument much proof.
Like in Goldilocks & The Three Bears, there seems to be a “just right” size range, about 20-26 students. Learning is complex; while the optimum number of students varies; ideally, teachers will have the autonomy to set the best class size based on their knowledge of the students.
There is a long list of factors that affect learning; class size is just one of many.
So what does this mean for parents?
No matter how large your child’s class is, keep an eye out for learning problems.
Many bright children experience bumps in the road while learning to read, solve math problems, write, remember homework assignments, stay focused, be organized and manage their time.
It seems reasonable to think that a larger class size will create more distractions and result in less individual time working with the teacher. As parents, we can talk to our child about what he/she is learning in school, check homework and read with our child daily. If we notice our child struggling with assignments, falling behind in reading and showing regular frustration or discouragement, we will want to ask the teacher and school for support right away.
Also, with the upcoming election, check out the candidates track record on education legislation. Their platform will share their promises, but their voting records hold the truth about where they stand on school-related issues.
Cheers to a great year!