Does class size matter in education?
Monday, July 06, 2015
Texas school districts were in the spotlight again as recent reports revealed thousands of elementary classes exceeding their set 22-pupil maximum size limit. The number of classrooms that exceeded this limit in 2014 was up to 5,883, meaning 130,000 K-4 students were crammed in together.
The fast-growing school districts in the state have sought more funding so they can hire more teachers and deal with the influx of students. Education funding cuts in 2011 have hit the state hard, with per-pupil spending still below what it was five years ago.
Interest groups have sighted that lack of funding has given rise to oversized classes. Last year, State District Judge John Dietz ruled the Texas school finance system was not equipped to educate all its students, particularly in low-income areas where each student needs more attention.
But Texas is not the only state facing such a dilemma. A new research paper released last month by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) shows that differences in the quality of education account for 20-35 percent of the state-level variation in per-person GDP.
Looking at educating students as an investment in human capital, the economists explained how important the quality of this development is for the future of the country. It is not enough to focus on a 100 percent graduation rate, but the system must ensure that each and every student gets quality focus and help from teachers.
Funding for schools will only bring fruitful results if there is a healthy teacher-student ratio. Growing diversity in the population means more demographic disparities within a class, affecting student performance. Unless handled individually, these differences cannot be overcome in a one-size-fits-all system.
Several studies conducted over the years show students in smaller classes perform better than in larger classes, especially elementary school students. This is even truer for minority students, special-needs students, at-risk students and those who struggle with English literacy.
Debates about assessments and academic performance being the right measure for student success are raging all over, yet the stress on test scores seems to be rising. The value of small classes is evident with more teacher-student interaction and relation, quality instruction time, greater access to technology, greater adaptability to intellectual and educational challenges leading to less disruptive behavior.
The benefits go way beyond test scores and student engagement. The increased probability of attending college offers long-term success for both the individual and economy. Thus, a manageable K-12 class size can lay the foundation for continued academic and life success. Higher earning potential per person means less crime, decreased welfare dependence and improved citizenship.
But it's not just students who suffer. Increasing class size has other negative effects, too.
It drastically affects teacher quality, when they have to deal with double the number of students than they should. Overworked and underpaid teachers means schools will find it harder and harder to retain quality teachers. This, combined with the disappointment of low student performance will further lower their morale.
More than anything, many states review teacher performance based on their students' test scores, which adds to the burden. Public schools today employ 250,000 fewer people than they did before the 2008-09 recession, but K-12 student enrollment is at an all-time high.
More than anything, this is give rise to labor disputes and teacher walkouts. Disturbing news like these is increasing all over the U.S. and in Canada. We should consider this a reality check if we want the overall economy and quality of life to improve.
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