Friday, January 21, 2011

What's My Average?

In the debate over current school budgets the "average class size" statistic has become increasingly significant. The statistic is misused and covers some disturbing trends that directly affect the quality of what I am able to do.

Admittedly most concrete data and studies indicating benefits of smaller class sizes exists at the lower grade levels but class size matters( See: or ). At higher grade levels class size clearly impacts instruction and learning as well. Yes kids can learn in a big lecture style class and they can also learn in a small hands on interactive class. But as a teacher it is more difficult, sometime impossible, to operate as effectively when student loads continue to grow. Am I complaining? Yes.

It is imperative that we work to keep classes with at risk, special education and similarly challenged students small. This is as much for behavioral reasons as it is academic. That means that core classes with "typical" kids are forced to grow. Not being a math teacher that simply means I must devote less attention to each student.

In an educational landscape dominated by hard choice decisions distanced from the classroom, increasing average class size seems an enticing way to increase efficiency. Having more students jeopardizes many of the more engaging and perhaps rigorous activities. Quality feedback and interaction with the teacher declines. This is not good. Can we still teach and kids still learn, yes. But simply put, one can only grade so many essays or homework effectively. That reality somehow gets lost between the desktop and the budget.

We all agree better teaching can mean better learning. While adding students might save money the true cost can never be measured in dollars.

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