Wednesday, November 20, 2013
The typical discussion about classroom size is about whether to make them smaller for disadvantaged students. A new study by the Fordham Institute asks a slightly different question and suggests a different approach: within a single school, would it help to assign more students to the best teachers and fewer to the weaker teachers. The premise of this question is consistent with prior literature that suggested that, generally, the quality of the teacher matters more the the number of students in the class (although that conclusion does not necessarily follow in regard to the most disadvantaged students). The Fordham Institutes's study concludes that schools can, in fact, maximize achievement and more efficiently marshall their resources by assigning strong teachers to larger classrooms, rather than assigning the same number of students to every teacher's classroom.
One unanswered question is what the teachers think about this.Some state laws and collective bargaining agreements pose barriers, although those issues are more easily dealt with than the morale ones. What if the best teachers object to doing more work that others? My guess is that they are already doing more work and know it, even if they do not fully appreciate the extent. Second, while there is an obviously big gap between law school and K-12, law professors tend to revel in having slightly, if not significantly, higher enrollments than their colleagues. Of course, these larger enrollments can be influenced by things other than teacher quality, such as "easy grader," interesting topics, no exam, etc. But many with large enrollments disregard nicety and take large enrollments as a sign of their own prowess. In this respect, I can see how the best teachers might appreciate larger classes, particularly since in K-12 its would be an explicit and more accurate recognition of their quality teaching. There is, however, a downside in K-12 because there is a lot more paper grading and each additional student adds to it. Thus, the question is whether the recognition offsets the work. One might ask the inverse in regard to the weak teacher: does the stigma offset the smaller workload?
The press release and summary are below:
Using data from North Carolina, economist Michael Hansen, senior researcher at the American Institutes for Research, looks at what right-sizing the classroom can mean for academic achievement. His results, in brief: As the best teachers teach larger classes and the weakest teachers progressively smaller ones, the net result is improved student learning—for all students, not just those who moved.
At the eighth-grade level
- Assigning up to twelve more students than average to effective teachers can produce gains equivalent to adding two-and-a-half extra weeks of school;
- Three-quarters of the potential gain (from moving twelve students) can be realized by moving just six;
- Moving a handful of students to the most effective teachers is comparable to the gains we’d see by removing the lowest 5 percent of teachers.
There are gains at the fifth-grade level, too, though not so large.