August 7, 2011


Does class size really matter?: Parents are dying to get their kids into smaller classes. But research shows they may be panicking over nothing (Peg Tyre, 8/06/11, Slate)

[T]here is a substantial body of research to suggest that kids in small classes don't necessarily learn more. In the range of things that schools can do to improve outcomes for your child, reducing class size may rank a distant fourth behind solid teacher training, a clear and well-sequenced curriculum, and a staff that is well supported and regularly evaluated. For decades, class size was largely a function of a community's population. A lot of kids born in a particular year? The local school found a way to cram them into classrooms. In the 1970s, though, as the discussion of the achievement gap sharpened and schools began to be seen as an instrument of racial oppression, "overcrowding" became a catch-all concept for the inequities between poor and middle-class kids in public education. Writers like liberal activist Jonathan Kozol decried the antiquated, crumbling, and overcrowded classrooms where poor children had their dreams denied. "The overcrowded classroom" was associated with poor performance, high truancy, and high rates of juvenile crime.

In the last twenty years, legislators have tried to institute state-wide standards in an effort to keep teacher-student ratios low, especially in poor and underperforming schools. Currently, thirty-two states now set aside funds for a voluntary or mandatory reduction in class size. These policies have had a substantial effect. In the last ten years, class size in America has declined -- and continues to drop. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average class size of U.S. elementary schools has been reduced from twenty-four pupils in 1993 to twenty pupils in 2007. Currently, not all poor kids are in overcrowded classes. In schools that serve rural poor kids, for instance, class sizes tend to be small. Urban schools that serve impoverished kids tend to be larger than their more affluent suburban counterparts, though. In public schools in inner-city Chicago, for example, kindergarten through eighth-grade classrooms are 14 percent larger than the average-size classrooms throughout Illinois (and considerably larger than the teacher-student ratio in schools in the affluent suburbs that ring the city). In New York City, fourth-grade and eighth-grade classroom sizes are 10 percent and 17 percent higher, respectively, than the average classroom size in the rest of the state.

Americans got adequate educations when every grade was crowded into the same one room schoolhouse, no?

Posted by at August 7, 2011 8:16 AM

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