Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Does Class Size Matter?

Yes, it does, at least when it comes to class size. Recently Governor Romney visited Pennsylvania and made the remark, "a think tank type group went and looked at South Korea and Singapore and around the United States and said, gosh, in the schools the highest performing in the world, their classroom sizes are about the same in the United States ." Is education a priority in those countries?  I bet it is.

 Arne Duncan, the Education Secretary, has also called class size "a sacred cow," "and I think we need to take it on," said in March 2011. He later said, "My point there was that I think the quality of the teacher is so hugely important. I've said things like, give me the parent, give me an option of 28 children in a class with a phenomenal teacher or 22 children in a class with a mediocre teacher. If I was given that choice, I would choose a larger class size. I probably would too, but why should I have to?

 This is not about politics, this is about what is best for our students. I agree that teacher quality is important. I agree that parental support makes a difference. But class size is just as important. A number of my students are chorus members, and one day they had to leave for rehearsal.  That left 15 students in the classroom.  What a difference their absence made in my room! The remaining students asked, "Mrs.M, what if there were this many kids in the room all the time?"

 I smiled. In my mind, I was thinking of how much more I could accomplish.  How less draining the day would be.  I thought about the way I would be able to give each student individualized attention. Don't get me wrong, I managed with my group of 23 this year, and I realize 23 isn't a pretty bad number. But I know others are not as fortunate as I am. There are schools, where there are almost 30 students in a classroom. Even a "phenomenal" teacher  would have a difficult time with this number.

 I remember in the 80's when I had 30 students in my room, but it was different. The parents were involved, the students listened, they sat in rows, and I taught out of a textbook. The classroom was  easier to control , to manage. But now, when the dynamics have changed, it's not so easy anymore. Not when you want to engage students, create critical thinkers, and differentiate instruction.

 I wish I could get the "think tank" and Gov. Romney in a classroom of 25 1st graders. I wish Arne Duncan would spend the day in a room full of 30 middle schoolers. I am realistic. Presently, the economy is in a turmoil , money is tight, and budgets are cut. But if so much is expected of educators, if we are to work  in a productive environment, why not provide us with something that would help, a smaller class?

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