District Administration - October 2011 - (Page 104)
EssEntials on Education data and rEsEarch analysis
Does Class Size Really Matter?
By Laurene Johnson
With Over 60 percent Of school districts considering staff reductions to balance budgets (Kober & renter, 2011), class size is likely on many educators’ minds. With money tight, schools are seeking to focus available funds on those policies and programs most likely to have a positive impact on student learning. Although the effects of class size have been debated for decades, tennessee’s StAr project in the late 1980s seemed to settle the argument. however, while the StAr project found significant improvements in student learning when class size was reduced for kindergarten through third grade (Word et al., 1990), the body of research on class size suggests a more complex picture of the relationship between class size and student achievement. What’s the Magic Number? What many teachers, administrators and parents would like to know is the magic number for each grade level—the perfect number of students to have in a classroom. As with many education conundrums, however, magic is conspicuously absent from the class size research. The number that seems to come up most often in the research is 15. An early meta-analysis conducted by Smith and Glass found no difference in learning outcomes from reducing classes from 40 to 20, but found significant differences when classes were reduced from 20 to 15 students (hattie, 2005). in the StAr project, the “small” classes enrolled between 13 and 17 students (Word et al., 1990). Studies that involve class sizes being reduced to 20 students or more, and studies of instances in which substantial numbers of teachers were hired simultaneously in order to reduce class sizes, have generally not found significant effects on student learning (hattie, 2005).
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Capitalizing on Small Class Sizes The impact of small classes, therefore, is more complex than merely the number of students present in the room. research and common sense suggest that teachers with smaller class sizes have more time to spend with individual students, that they spend less time managing student behavior, and that they are thus able to implement instructional methods that engage students in learning. teachers, however, do not necessarily change their teaching strategies when they have fewer students in the classroom. reductions in class size, therefore, need to be accompanied by extensive professional development efforts
so that teachers can improve their effectiveness and thus capitalize on smaller class sizes (hattie, 2005). Given that reducing class size alone is an expensive classroom intervention, districts must consider whether it is the most costeffective way to invest funds (Whitehurst & chingos, 2011). Unfortunately, there is no research in the United States that specifically compares class size reductions to other investments in terms of the impact on student learning. comparisons across studies, however, suggest that while class size reduction can contribute to improved student achievement, it raises achievement less—and is less cost-effective—than other
RepoRts offeR some AnsweRs
A new report from the Brown Center on Education Policy (Whitehurst & Chingos, 2011) again reviews and synthesizes the class size research and attempts to answer the question “Does class size matter?” It comes to a familiar (and for many, unsatisfactory) conclusion: It depends. The report is a helpful synthesis of the major studies for those looking to become familiar with the research in this field. For more information, go to www.brookings.edu/brown.aspx According to a report from the Education Commission of the States, 36 states have some policy related to class size in K12 general education. Interested in finding out what policies your state or neighboring states have? Visit the Education Commission Web site at www.ecs.org.
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of District Administration - October 2011
District Administration - October 2011
From the Editor
Building a Blended Learning Program
How Are Science Fairs Fairing?
A New Age for Algebra
Early College High Schools
Changing of the Guard in Florida
How Much Computing Power Do You Need?
An Unconventional Approach to 1:1
District Administration - October 2011