Monday, December 24, 2007
skoolboy on Class Size
skoolboy here. My thanks to Eduwonkette for ceding the bully cyberpulpit for a few days while she takes a much-earned break from blogging. I’ve never done this before, and already I’m exhausted. I know that I have a large pair of high heels to fill (ouch! I think I strained a metaphor!), but I’ll do my best not to embarrass the Caped Crusader. Since I’m a newbie, I thought I’d write about a nice, safe, noncontroversial topic – class size. I know that there are some readers of Eduwonkette who are quite passionate about class size, and may not be delighted with all that I have to say. Feel free to disagree, and, if you wish, to e-mail me personally at skoolboy2 at gmail dot com. But please, please don’t blame Eduwonkette for anything I say. She’s not responsible for my opinions, nor I for hers. And now: Watch, as skoolboy sticks his head in the lion’s mouth! Will he emerge unharmed?
As an undergraduate, I had classes that ranged from 600 students to 3 students. Although the class of 600 was wonderful—a much beloved and engaging lecturer on microeconomics—and the class of 3 was great too—a freshman seminar reading intellectual biographies of Einstein, Darwin, Freud and others—on balance, I liked smaller classes. (They could be too small, because it’s tough to hide in a class of 3 if you haven’t done the reading.)
As a college teacher, I’ve taught classes ranging from 60 students to about 8 students. Everything else being equal, I prefer teaching smaller classes. I feel like I get to know the students better in smaller classes, and there are fewer papers and exams to grade. I’m not alone. Given a choice between a larger class and a smaller class, students, teachers and parents in the U.S. almost always prefer smaller classes. Followers of school reform in New York City know that, despite the NYC Department of Education’s best efforts to disguise it, more parents surveyed chose smaller class size over nine other response options as the one improvement they would most like their school to make.
So what’s the problem? First, reducing class size is perceived as expensive. Second, class size reduction policies are often championed on the grounds that they will improve student achievement, and the evidence on this is not as secure as we’d like. I’ll have more to say about these points over the next few days. But for now, I’d like to suggest that proponents of class size reduction frame their arguments on moral grounds, rather than on what the research evidence has to say. Let’s champion smaller classes because it’s the right thing to do for teachers (e.g., providing adequate working conditions for valued public servants), and for children (e.g., distributing opportunities to learn more equitably across students), not because reducing class size will increase standardized test scores by x%.
Merry Christmas to Eduwonkette’s readers. I’m going to post tomorrow morning, and then observe the holiday in my customary way – a movie and Chinese food. For those of you celebrating Christmas in other ways, the posts will still be here on Wednesday, and I wish you a satisfying and peaceful holiday.