Monday, July 30, 2012

Class Sizes Don't Matter...with a BIG Exception

One solution oftentimes proposed by schools to improve learning involves reducing class sizes. Florida passed a class size amendment in 2002 through a ballot initiative. The amendment proclaimed that class sizes could not exceed 18 students in kindergarten through third grade, 22 students in fourth through eighth grade, and 25 students in ninth through twelfth grade. 

Detractors of such proposals think they are a waste of money and that student performance is only dependent on having "good teachers." They often think about the old days when they were in a 50-person class back in Catholic school in the 1950s. Let's forget the fact that most present-day Catholic schools no longer operate that way and that today's demands would hinder the success of many classrooms with that many students. There was no such thing as "differentiated instruction" back then and teachers did not receive 100% of the blame when students did not succeed.

People opposed to public school class size reductions also feel as though class size reductions are only a ploy by teachers unions to increase membership rolls. Setting class size limits will force districts to hire more teachers, which could increase the number of union members depending on the state. However, these same people probably would not be excited to send their elementary age child to a classroom with 35 students either. 

Despite these arguments, class sizes are held in high esteem and celebrated in some schools. In fact, the current crop of education reformers often tout these entities as being superior to public schools. They are private schools. They value small classes, and most highlight their small class sizes in their advertisements. Boarding School Review lists small class sizes as one of the reasons why parents should consider boarding school and support this claim using the same kinds of arguments one would use to defend smaller class sizes in public school. Even many charter schools and smaller liberal arts colleges and community colleges use their small class sizes to market themselves. Why is that small classes are okay for these schools but just a teachers union membership drive and/or cover-up for bad teaching for public schools?

It's one thing to argue that we cannot afford to reduce class sizes at this moment. However, dismissing such proposals as a conspiratorial ploy by the teachers unions to increase membership is disingenuous inasmuch as the schools these people tout as being superior value small class sizes themselves.  

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