Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Quality Teachers vs. Small Class Size

All you need to control this crowd is a quality teacher.
The so-called Education reformers always pose demands for lower class sizes in terms of, "We will need so many more teachers and so many of them will be of lower quality, the impact of lower class sizes will be negated."

Of course, they always start off with the usual (say this out loud with your lips pursed):

Teacher quality is the single most important determiner of a child's education.

Ugh! Like either you're a quality teacher or you're not. No recognition of the impact on quality by conditions like class size, kids with problems, etc.

Unfortunately, the leadership of the UFT/AFT axis and most politicians have bought into this, which naturally leads to the "let's blame the teacher" and "It's all about professional development" and ultimately to a deskilling of teachers -- let's make teaching teacher proof - and what better way that teach to tests?

Two articles are worth taking a look at, both based on studies in England. "How Much Do Smaller Class Sizes Improve Teaching" here and Ed Week's "Teaching Quality Matters" .

There will always be a bell curve in any job.
Maybe we should not hold elections until we are sure all politicians are superior?
Or fight fires until all firemen are tops?
Close hospitals till all doctors are high quality?
Close down the legal system unless you can get Clarence Darrow?
Quality Lawyers? Quality Judges? - give me a break?
Or not put police on the street until we measure their effectiveness? They get credit in NYC for cutting crime by putting lots of police (did they measure their quality beforehand?) on the street.
So how come everyone is focused on quality teachers?
Because it's an excuse to do ed reform on the cheap.

Many teachers do struggle with things like control due to large classes. Many are well intentioned but the job is overwhelming. And there are superior people who can handle it all but we will never get all teachers to be superior - not with merit pay or no matter how much they are paid.

What strikes me is that the cost is always raised by people who didn't blink when enormous money appeared miraculously to fight a war. Imagine how demands for the same amount would be met as throwing good money away if a war on education neglect were declared.

A parent wrote on the nyceducation listserve:

I am not an educator, but a parent. I have had three children go through the public education system from Pre-K to High School. I can attest on a personal level smaller classes provide a better learning environment. The article cites the teachers we have as all being superior, or according to them we should get rid of the less than superior teachers and have the superior teachers teach to classes of 50 or 100. Since they are so good they can do that. Rather, in our current system, we have some superior, some good and some mediocre teachers. So baring the idea that we can just do away with the mediocre teachers, then wouldn't it be better for a mediocre teacher to be teaching to a class of 20 rather than 30. Maybe the less than perfect teacher would find the lower class size conducive to improving their teaching as they could then spend more time with each child. This seems to me like common sense, something sadly lacking in much of this ongoing debate.
Another parent followed with:

The other thing is that large classes cause much higher rates of attrition – so that you end up getting less experienced and less able teachers as a result and most high-needs, overcrowded schools. 50% of teachers said that large classes caused them to leave the profession – and in national surveys they say the best incentive program to attract them to and keep them working at high-needs schools would be small classes.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with all of this, of course, but I want to make one point:

    Regarding the large classes, you write: " And there are superior people who can handle it all . . . "

    It is one thing to "handle" these large classes -- it takes a combination of personality, humor, dignity, organizational skills, deep knowledge of the subject, good working knowledge of the kids, etc. -- and altogether another thing to make it an administrative GOAL to get all teachers up to par to teach at this level.

    Large classes are for universities, where student minds are going the intellectual distance.

    They will never be for public schools, where student minds are being formed. Pre-college minds call for a much different arena, where kids need to develop an array of cognition skills that can only be learned in smaller settings, with INTERACTION, and TIME to process, experiment with, and manipulate language until it all becomes second nature.

    And teachers have to be given time to CORRECT the homework they want us to assign, because in those big classes, as sure as night turns into day, they ain't gonna be giving homework every night that they're willing to put the hours in to correct -- I'm talking real, "old school" type of marking that takes hours and hours on a daily basis. You just can't get better at writing until you do it a lot and get all those corrections from the teachers in the margin.

    So our goal should not be "handling" these large classes. That amounts to a bunch of survival techniques in this crap environment.


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