Class Size

CLASS SIZE….Bill Sjostrom points to an LA Times op-ed suggesting that California should end its experiment that mandates class sizes of no more than 20 students in grades K-3. Bill summarizes the argument like this:

1) There is little evidence that class size makes much difference to how well students do;
2) There is substantial evidence that the quality of teachers makes a very big difference;
3) Smaller classes require more, lower paid, teachers, and therefore more bad and mediocre teachers.

The class size mandate in California is an especially onerous straitjacket because it allows absolutely no flexibility. If you have have, say, 41 second graders, you have to split them into three classes or else you lose a bunch of state funding.

A few years ago one of the schools in Irvine had a situation like this and solved it by playing musical chairs: three times a day the kids were moved around in such a way that no class ever had more than 20 students. The funny thing is that the kids probably didn’t mind, but the parents went ballistic. Unfortunately, the school had little choice.

(As an aside, my mother tells me that American parents ? well, Orange County parents, anyway ? go crackers at the idea of primary kids moving from class to class the way high school students do, convinced that it will do irreparable harm to their childen’s stability and self esteem. Danish kids, on the other hand, do this routinely starting around first grade, and appear to grow up into sterling citizens.)

I’m inclined to believe that small class sizes don’t produce significant benefits, although the evidence is mixed. Small school size, on the other hand, does seem to make a difference. Unfortunately, this is even more expensive than small classes, so there’s little chance of ever returning to the era of small schools. Pity.

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