Sunday, October 7, 2012

Is There a Downside To Small Classes?

Reducing class size seems to be a no-brainer - something that teachers, parents, students, and administration can agree is a worthy goal.  In my 8+ years of teaching, I've had classes of 8 students pulled out to receive Enrichment Math & ELA instruction to 28 student in my middle school English Language Arts class. This year I have 21 students in my 5th grade class.  To me, smaller class sizes can be a huge positive factor in so many areas. Mainly - fewer students per teacher allows more interaction and 1:1 time per student.

So...what could possible be wrong with small class sizes?

Well - according to Eva Moskowitz, founder and leader of Success Charter Network in NYC,  - a lot.  In an interview with Talk of the Nation she argues that the decision to keep class sizes low comes at the expense of other positive benefits. Specifically, Moskowitz thinks that paying for more teachers results in fewer students supplies, professional development, field trips, and technology which can cause lower academic achievement.

I guess she a has a point. But in my experience, there has never been a positive result from the decision to allow larger class sizes. It's always been more students per class AND fewer field trips AND less money for supplies and technology. I'd gladly have a couple more students per class if it meant that they could all have a laptop or iPad, but in reality that is not how it pans out.

In the past, I was in a situation where (due to budget cuts and lay-offs) one grade had only 10 teachers while the other two grades in the building had 15 teachers leading to vastly different class sizes. (Sometimes 30 vs. 9) And let me tell you - that created some tension.  I also think that Moskowitz overlooks some key negatives of larger class sizes:
  • Paperwork Load (general grading, filling out individual assessments, grade reports, IEPs, report card comments, copying, preparation of supplies, reading records, etc...)
  • Parents to Contact (answering e-mails, notes and phone calls promptly...)
  • Meetings & Conferences (individual writing conferences with students, IEP meetings, parent conferences, intervention meetings, etc...)
Completing all those things well for 28 students vs. just 18 requires a big jump in time and energy that takes away from effective planning and teaching.  There is enough pressure on teachers already without this additional excuse to slash our jobs.

So how are your class sizes this year? And how has class size influenced the success of your students?