Class Size Matters
Gov. Bill Haslam downplayed concerns today that budget cuts would hurt schools by increasing class sizes. “Most studies have shown that teacher class size is not as direct a relationship to achievement as people have thought in the past, that having a great teacher with 25 students is better than having a mediocre teacher with 18 students, OK?,” Haslam said today. I agree that it is much better for a student to be in a crowded classroom with a great teacher than in a classroom with 15 students, if that teacher is mediocre at best. I do believe that the quality of the teacher has a huge impact on learning. This raises several questions, including, how does the state determine who is a great teacher? How is it measured? The current answer includes test scores. That is a blog post for another time…
Another concern, and a more pressing one for me, is class size. In Tennessee, we currently average 30 students per class in grades 7 – 12, but by law, we can have 35 in a classroom. In my personal experience, I normally have 27 – 35 students. It is really difficult to teach a class containing 35 students. I explain it to my students this way: Our class periods are 90 minutes long. There are 35 of you. How much of my individual time do you get per day? (Math problem…) That’s right, about 2.7 minutes per day. This means we must learn as a group. Normally, this would not be a problem. My Pre Calculus students handle this very well. It does make me sad that there are several in the class that I do not get to know very well. I don’t have time to listen to personal stories from each of them or talk about their crazy weekends or last night’s game. Don’t get me wrong, I try, but it is really hard. The quiet students tend to fall through the cracks when there are 35. My relationship suffers with my honor students, but I don’t feel like the learning does to a significant degree. Let’s be honest, most of these students would learn if you placed them in front of a computer with random math videos and then asked them to answer 10 questions in a row correct. My role in the room could be optional.
My standard level classes are another story. With the adoption of new standards and the gaps in learning that are a result of implementing them all at one time, a class of 35 is just too many. I have several students that can not learn in a lecture environment and when I put them in small groups, 7 small groups is too much for one classroom. I prefer not to lecture. I want students to learn and discover math on their own and not just copy or mimic steps or algorithms I demonstrate on the SmartBoard. For learning to be authentic and memorable, students must have the ability to direct their own learning with input from the instructor. This is very difficult to do with a crowded classroom.
With all the pressure placed on teachers to have high-test scores, anything that can be done to ease our burden is not only welcomed, it is necessary. Yes, Governor Haslam, I can teach 35 students at one time. Yes, I can do my best to get them to pass their standardized test. No, I can not build a meaningful relationship with all of them, encouraging them to value education and continue their learning beyond the classroom. I can not discover their individual interests and goals and tailor my instruction to motivate them. Believe me, I will try, but I will fail. Instead of believing random studies (I can find my own study) believe the teachers: Class size matters.