The One Best Solution for Failing Schools

Posted: 2011/02/26 in Classroom Teacher, Education

Everyone knows the answer. There have been countless studies all reaffirming the same simple solution to the problem of schools that don’t meet the needs of students.

Smaller Class Size.

Your child in public school may be in a chemistry class with 37 other classmates. A nearby private school (that charges more than $20,000 a year) has chemistry classes with six to ten students.

The teachers are not superior at that private school. In fact, they may not have the skills to deal with the issues that face a typical public school teacher (but then again they don’t have to deal with those issues).

For the kids struggling in chemistry class, how much attention will they get when their teacher has to keep track of 38 students in a 55 minute period? And what happens to those students who never even get their hands on the lab equipment in that foreshortened hour? It’s easy for teenagers to lose interest or give up in frustration.

Will that teacher phone the parents of those slacking students? That one teacher is seeing almost 200 students each day. After grading assignments, preparing for lessons and labs, attending required meetings and doing required paperwork, how many phone calls can that teacher make?

In that private school chemistry class of six students, advanced students can be given individual attention, additional challenges; struggling students can get needed help. No wonder they do better in school. Meanwhile, that private school teacher may not be as frazzled and stressed at the end of the week.

Any teacher can tell you the truth of that class size truism. For years I’ve taught two freshmen classes but they’re always unbalanced: one class with 33 students, the other with 40 students. The same thing happens every year — the smaller class gets through the curriculum faster; I know their names sooner; I’m more aware of which students need help.

But do the math. In a 40-student-per-classroom school, you would only need 50 teachers to cover one period of a day. A 25-student-per-classroom school would require 30 more teachers for that same period. Multiply that by six periods a day and then by all the high schools.

For those who say “Money isn’t the answer” how would you pay for the extra classrooms, heating and cleaning those rooms, plus equipment for more science labs? And how would you pay the salaries for 60% more teachers?

But before you even worry about those salaries, how are you going to get that many additional qualified teachers?

  1. Yes, the simplest and the oldest educational solutions are normally the best. The thing about small classes is also that some students do not feel as prone to make asses of themselves since they have a smaller audience! I have classes that range from 10 to 28 students, and one perk at my school of the smaller classes is that it is much easier to use technology with them. I can usually count on at least 10 computers working somewhere! But 28?? Fat chance.

    • 10 to 28 students? Every class in our school is pushing 40 (or up to maximum number of chairs). On the other hand I’m very fortunate that our school budgeted (many years ago) for a computer tech of our own in the building. It meant that the school across town (with which we’re often compared) had no computers for two weeks while the district worked on their computer virus. Our computers were shut down for just two hours when our computer tech dealt with that same virus. I have taught computer-based classes to approx. 40 kids at a time.

  2. The research has, and always will, show that class size (and socio-economic status) are the top indicators of student success. Imagine a one hour class of 30 students: If each student were to get equal attention/time from the teacher that would be two minutes each! Then, factor in the behavior problems (which take up way more than two minutes), the disruptions, the tardies, taking attendance, collecting papers, etc. and what is left for instruction? The amazing thing is that despite all that, teachers CAN and DO make it work!
    Good point by theteachingwhore about the computers!

    • Have you noticed that you know the names of the troublemakers, and you learn the names of the A-plus students. It’s the ones in the middle — the kids trying to work their way from a C to a B — where you learn their names last.

  3. I teach six 55-minute classes every day. I’d quit if they had 40 students in them.

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