Assumption that smaller class sizes = better student achievement turns out not to be true. What now?

That smaller class sizes and smaller schools were necessary for better student achievement is practically an article of faith in American education, however, real world implementation of this scenario does not bear this assumption out.

Smaller schools apparently don’t help much either as evidenced by the results of the Gates Foundation initiative.

As long as I can remember it’s been a bedrock article of faith that large class sizes were responsible for everything bad in American education and that smaller was always better, now that assumption is turned on it’s head. What are we going to blame now that school and class size is being pulled off the table?

This Harvard study found

Reducing class size doesn’t benefit student achievement

Some interesting overview comments here

It means we don’t have to hire as many teachers, and that money can be spent on other things.

Wait… so some schools in Florida had to reduce class sizes–by an average of three students per class. Others didn’t have to, because they already had smaller classes. Both the newly-reduced classes and the already-smaller classes showed “improvement.”

What the hell good is that? Where is the control group of unchanged larger classes? And who thinks that a difference of three kids more or less is going to make much difference in any case?

do these studies control for “parental attention” i.e. the amount of time outside of the classroom that the parents engage their children in the learning process?

because if it does, then the conclusions mean nothing to me. I would posit that crappier performing schools, for reasons that I’m not going to get into now because it would sidetrack the conversation, have significantly lower levels of average parental attention. Based on that, I would still want to decrease student/teacher ratio in those crappy performing schools to make up for the lack of individualized attention from the parents.

I was the only one in my class grades 1-6. In grade seven I was the smartest and most ostracized student.

You misrepresent your first cite. The Gate initiative was not about small class size, it was about small schools. Not the same thing at all. The point became that big High Schools had the ability to offer more electives and variety and making them smaller eliminated that.

And the Florida experience is hardly convincing, for reasons already expressed. And the last quote seems to imply that schools that already had small enough classes got money and so did schools with bigger classes - those who already had small classes could spend it on anything, the others had to spend it on becoming as small … what a shock that the already small class size schools did better.

My introduction to the citation is noted blelow. I’m referencing both points as part of the OP question.

Hmmm. I admit to being confused by the fact that you reference both school size and class size while discussing it. If your intent was to use that as evidence that school size as an independent factor is “off the table” then I limit my objection only to that even that is not completely clear from the cite:

All we really have in that cite is a quote from one person saying that big schools outperform small ones. Not much to base a conclusion off of.

And you were also the smartest and most ostracized student in your class in grades 1-6 ;).

Back to the OP, educators have been saying for ages now that smaller class sizes would help, but I’ve never encountered this article of faith that smaller school sizes were necessarily better. In fact, there are many schools that brag about how large they are (where, by contrast, no school would ever brag about how large their classes are).

Accept that some students aren’t suited to school.

Shock value seems to be a commodity for you. Weissberg doesn’t say that- in the part you quote, he just says that not everyone can handle the same level and amount of schooling, due to things like differing intellectual ability. That’s a pretty sound idea, and obviously, many people don’t admit to that.

Of course, since Weissberg writes for the racialist cesspool of alternative right, and I find a variety of racialist books in the related section on amazon, and just judging from the reviews, I’m guessing Weissberg, like many other racialists/hereditarians, thinks IQ is massively important to academic performance (I think it’s a good average component, but not the main factor) and that IQ is likewise pretty much deep-seated.

That’s a far cry from the original idea I outlined, isn’t it?

And on the main topic, I agree that reduced class sizes aren’t an all around factor in academic performance- However, to say it makes no difference no matter what is fallacious. Bigger class sizes are better for some kids, smaller ones for some kids, and for some kids, it makes no difference. The subtext of these studies seems to be the assumption that it has to matter for everyone. Plus, it’s helpful to consider extremities- wouldn’t a class of 20 with 1 teacher do better than a class of, say, 100 with 1 teacher?

The movement for smaller classrooms is based on changing educational theory. Back in the day when most instructors taught solely by lecture, classes could be large because there was little to no interaction between teacher and student (except for the typical question/answer sessions). Educational theory has changed over the years to promote more in-depth interaction between teacher and student. Differentiated learning is a theory that pushes for teachers to tailor instruction to meet the needs of all students in the classroom - some need lots of remedial attention, some are on level for an independent assignment, and some need to be enriched through individual projects or additional learning. So for every lesson, there might be several “levels” that the teacher is simultaneously teaching to in one classroom. This takes a lot of effort on the teacher’s part, and it’s impossible to do effectively if you’re teaching large classes.

So, smaller classrooms really benefit teachers who practice differentiated learning. It allows them more one-on-one or small group time with students, and also allows them to really assess each student on an individual level. However, there are lots of classrooms out there that still use the traditional, one-size-fits-all lesson plan that is heavy on teacher lecture with student notetaking. In those classrooms, class size just isn’t going to make much of a difference. I would be interested in seeing the type of learning that was going on in classrooms involved with the study. Just from personal experience, I can tell you that there is a huge difference between a class of 25 and a class of 20, at least at the elementary level.

(Interestingly enough, though, classes can be too small - once you get below 15 or so, it’s really difficult to get good class discussions going.)

I’d put the optimum at around 12, from my own experience, but the point remains that there is such a thing as “too small”. And it probably varies with age and other circumstances: My estimate is based on college students, which might be the root of the different numbers.

Of course, once you get down to only 1 or 2 students per teacher, you’re again in another realm entirely. But tutoring requires a different skillset than teaching to a group.

IIRC, not a single county in Florida ever fully complied with the class size amendment, for what it’s worth.

As a baby boomer, I can remember being in a lot of classes with more than 40 students. I can tell you from first-hand experience that with a class size that large, it doesn’t matter how good the teacher is or how high-achieving the students are, the educational model is going to be “sit down, shut up and take out your textbook.”

If you went a little slower than average, if you got stuck on a particular problem, if you just wanted to ask a question and then follow up with another question, forget it. Either get your parents to explain it to you or muddle through the best you could.

Well, there are still other educational models that can be used there. You could, for instance, divide the class up into groups of a half-dozen students, tell them to discuss the topic for a while, and either go through the groups or ask them at the end of the session to find out what questions they still have. That way, you’re getting the students themselves to do a lot of the teaching for you. But yeah, a class that large does definitely restrict the teacher’s options.

Wait, they reduced their class size by three people and are saying that is proof that smaller class sizes are worthless? That’s like reducing people’s salaries by ten dollars and concluding that making more money doesn’t lead to a better lifestyle.

Seriously. Now give me back my ten dollars!

As you delve deeper into the morass that is the US public school system, only one theme becomes crystal clear: nobody knows. Study after study contradicts study after study. For every example, there’s a counter-example. For every success, there’s 100 failures doing the exact same thing.

In my grad program, the theme was: for the last 100 years, the problem with education has been the focus on pedagogy: how the class was taught and who taught it. However, the focus should be but has never been on the underlying psychological constructions that make up “learning.”

And then, even in places where the schools (on the surface) appear to “work,” there’s hugely powerful sociological movements affecting education.

If anybody ever figures it out, my bet is that you’ll be able to tell they’re right by the catcalls and strike threats by the teacher’s unions.