Saturday, January 3, 2009

Fixing the Schools, in Five Easy Steps! Step Three--Reduce Class Size

OK, I know reducing class size is a no-brainer. But as the people running the schools have no brains and still have not done this, perhaps it's time for someone with a brain to step in. (I'm available, Mr. Mayor. Call me.)

Reducing class size is the only sure fire way to improve student performance. Almost everything else is a gimmick. I've spent most of my career teaching classes in excess of thirty students, and sometimes far in excess. I've also taught in so-called 'triad' classes in which three teachers split up two classes, giving each teacher roughly 22 students. Guess which way worked better?

Decreasing class size will also improve teacher quality dramatically. It's a simple fact that teaching 35 kids is hard, which is why Joel Klein and Michelle Rhee fled the field as soon as they could. Teaching 22, while not easy, lightens the burden considerably, especially in terms of planning, grouping, and giving individualized attention. Discipline problems float away. Real teaching occurs.

Many high powered education pundits (by which I mean know-nothings) regularly discount class size as a factor. Oddly, most of these individuals are extremely wealthy and send their children to private schools--schools that trumpet their low class sizes as a major plus. I've never heard a millionaire say, "Hey! That public school has 35 kids per class! Let me send Muffy there!"

The main problem in tackling class size is money. It simply costs more to hire more teachers and build more schools. While I don't have all the answers, I do know that it would cost less to lower class sizes nationwide than it is costing us to bail out a bunch of multi-millionaires who invested in unintelligible mortgage-backed securities.

And I do have a plan for getting more teachers into the classroom at virtually zero cost. Unfortunately, it's also a no-brainer, so it's unlikely that it will ever be implemented. Still, I have hope.


Anonymous said...

Are you going to reveal your plan?

Curmudgeon said...

The guidance counselors who feel that you can put a huge range of talent in the same room are a big problem.

You have many sections of algebra 1. Put the strong ones together in certain sections and the weaker ones in other sections. You don't have to label them that way, but the result will be better classes and better teaching. Larger groups can be managed.

Weaker sections should be 15-18 students because they need more individualized work.

Stronger sections can be larger. 20-25 students or even more, because they don't need as much DI.