I want first to say that by no means is this intended to support Betsy DeVos who currently serves as US Secretary of Education. Her appointment to this position is a slap in the face to educators and clearly shows the priority the current administration and those that confirmed her nomination. Betsy DeVos is as qualified to speak on education as I am to be a judge on American Idol (and I can’t hold a note even if it was placed in my hand).
While trying to justify a budget that would cut federal education spending by more than 10 percent, Betsy DeVos stated the following:
Students may be better served by being in larger classes if by hiring fewer teachers, a district or state can better compensate those who have demonstrated high ability and outstanding results.
I immediately wanted to disregard the idea of hiring fewer teachers. That statement is ridiculous and should never be considered. Now, the first part of her statement, “students may be better served by being in larger class sizes” might be worth considering, and here is why.
I know the research out there says students learn better in smaller class sizes. Smaller classes may mean a teacher could be more effective with instruction. The demands of teachers have increased. Smaller classrooms make it easier for teachers to teach and provide effective feedback, remediation, and re-teach concepts. A smaller class allows for more personalized learning, and students can get more attention to their individual academic needs.
Those are the reasons larger classes are bad. But first, how do we define large and small class sizes? I believe it varies based on grade level. Some would consider 25 students a large class size. This might be large for kindergarten but not for 7th grade. Thirty students in a classroom in a school where the free and reduced lunch percentages are in the 80-90% could be considered too big. From what I have seen and heard the complaint on larger class sizes is due to the behavioral concerns of having a larger class size. Of course, for the sake of argument people will point to the academic concerns, but it is grounded on larger class sizes makes it difficult to manage. Not too many teachers would complain about a class of 30 students if they were well behaved and compliant regardless of their academic ability. Again, just what I have seen and heard.
With my principal hat on let’s consider the following school, a school that has a shortage of highly qualified and effective teachers. I have multiple teachers on emergency teacher licenses. I have teachers with no licenses. I have teachers who have no experience and lack the skills necessary to drive student achievement. This school has three sections of 2nd grade with 18 students in each classroom. Two out of the three are licensed teachers and are effective, but not teacher three. You have your small class sizes, but you have 18 students who are not receiving the same quality education as the other 36. The school is low income and has mostly students of color. It won’t be easy replacing the ineffective teacher. The teacher is getting constant feedback and coaching, but teaching isn’t working out for him/her. What do I do? I have to collapse three sections into two sections of 27 kids. The class size has grown to 27, but aren’t the students better off?
This scenario is not that far off. Truth be told, this is what many schools are facing around the country.
The small/large classroom is a debate that will always be around. My opinion is this do what is best for the kids. If you have enough qualified teachers for small class sizes, so be it. If not, I would rather have more students in front of our best teachers especially those students who have the most need.