Monday, March 7, 2011

Education Topic: Class Size

Small Classes vs. Large Classes: Another debate concerning education reform is class size. Bill Gates recently wrote for the Washington Post about education reform. In a later interview (again for the Washington Post) he had this to say:

If you look at something like class sizes going from 22 to 27, and paying that teacher a third of the savings, and you make sure it's the effective teachers you're retaining," he said, "by any measure, you're raising the quality of education as you do that."

No matter your opinion on Bill Gates' involvement in education, this is an important topic as it will influence our children. So... here are pros and cons concerning class size. Chime in with more examples in the comments and I will do a follow-up and give credit for your ideas!

Overall, positive associations with small class sizes deal with time. Teachers can devote more time to teach each student with a small class. Teachers can devote more time to each student, lesson planing to accommodate different types of learners, and grading for valuable feedback. Smaller classes also allow teachers to see more of what is occurring, like bullying. Sometimes small classes lead to close-knit groups which will also encourage group work and lessen bullying. The education is deemed personalized and tailored with small classes.

Negative associations with a small class size deal with student interaction. A problem exists if a small class has too many levels of students. If only one student out of fourteen continually struggles, she may be less likely to speak up, unlike if several students (more likely in a large class) had questions. A student may also be an outsider if cliques form in the small class. Additionally, teachers may finish material and not continue past where he would with another class he currently teaches, probably a larger class. This, however, may be an advantage for anti-homework advocates.

So are the advantages/disadvantages of large classes the exact opposite? Sure, and a bit more.

Positive associations of large classes deal with competition. If students are involved in a class topic or assignment, theoretically they will want to 'win.' The education is deemed realistic and preparatory for the students' next life stage. Large classes can create competition to drive students to study more, but that does not always happen.

Negative associations of large classes deal with how students get 'lost' among so many peers. Shy students may gladly blend into the rows of desks and apathetic ones will become more apathetic. Teachers cannot grade papers as thoroughly, even if they only have five extra to grade. Some schools do not have classrooms large enough to accommodate large classes, and students get the message that they are in the way.

Those are the positives and negatives I could think of concerning class size. So now it is your turn. What needs added to the pro/con conversation about small and large classes? Is Bill Gates right? Or should education continue aiming for small class sizes?

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