SURPRISE - PUBLIC SCHOOL CLASS SIZE DOESN'T MATTER
By Joel Turtel
October 21, 2006
Public-school authorities often complain that classes are too large. They claim that teachers can't be expected to give their students the individual attention they need if there are too many students in the class. On the surface, this excuse seems to have some merit. Common sense tells us that in smaller classes, teachers can give more time and attention to each student.
However, many studies show that smaller class size does not guarantee that children get a better education. The pupil-to-teacher ratio in public schools in the mid-1960s was about 24 to 1. This ratio dropped to about 17 to 1 by the early 1990s, which means the average class size fell by 28 percent. Yet, during the same time period, SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) test scores fell from 954 to 896, a decline of 58 points or 6 percent. In other words, student academic achievement (as measured by SAT scores) dropped at the same time that class sizes got smaller.
Eric Hanushek, a University of Rochester economist, examined 277 published studies on the effects of teacher-pupil ratios and class-size averages on student achievement. He found that only 15 percent of these studies showed a positive improvement in achievement with smaller class size, 72 percent found no statistically significant effect, and 13 percent found a negative effect on achievement.
It seems to go against common sense that student academic achievement could drop with smaller class sizes. One reason this happens in public schools is that when class sizes drop, schools have to create more classes to cover all the students in the school. Schools then have to hire more teachers for the increased number of classes. However, public schools across the country are already having trouble finding qualified teachers to fill their classrooms. As a result, when reduced class sizes increase the need for more teachers, schools then often have to hire less-qualified teachers.
As we might expect, teacher quality is far more important than class size in determining how children do in school. William Sanders at the University of Tennessee studied this issue. He found that teacher quality is almost twenty times more important than class size in determining students' academic achievement in class. As a result, reducing class sizes can lead to the contrary effect of hurting students' education, rather than helping.
Similarly, a study on class size by policy analyst Jennifer Buckingham of the Sydney-based Center for Independent Studies found no reliable evidence that students in smaller classes do better academically or that teachers spend significantly more time with them in these classes. Buckingham concluded that a 20 percent class-size reduction cost the Australian government an extra $1,150 per student, yet added only an additional two minutes of instruction per day for each child.
Reducing class sizes can't solve the core problems with public schools. No matter how small classes become, nothing will help if the teachers are ill-trained or their teaching methods are useless, destructive, or idiotic. For example, if English teachers use the whole-language or "balanced" reading instruction method, they can cripple students' ability to read no matter how small the classes are. If math teachers use "fuzzy" or "integrated" math, they can turn kids into math cripples. Even if classrooms had one teacher for every student, that child's ability to read or do math could still be wrecked if the teacher used these destructive reading or math-instruction methods.
In fact, under these conditions, smaller class sizes could give a teacher more time to damage (not intentionally) each student's reading or math abilities. So if a public school has teachers who are poorly trained or who are forced to use idiotic teaching methods by their supervisors, the ironic situation can occur where the smaller the class, the more damage the teacher can do to her students.
Here's an analogy on this issue of class size vs. teaching methods. Suppose a horseback-riding instructor was teaching one little girl to ride. This instructor's teaching method was to tell the bewildered girl to sit backwards on the horse, facing the horse's rump, hold onto the horse's tail, and say "giddy-yap." Does it matter that the student-teacher ratio in this horseback-riding class is one-to-one if the instructor is an idiot or uses idiotic teaching methods?
When public-school apologists claim that reducing class-size will "fix" the public schools, they are only dragging out the same 40-year old excuse that if, "you just give us more money, we can finally give your kids a decent education." That's because, as I noted above, whenever you reduce class sizes, a school district needs more money to hire more teachers.
The class-size smokescreen issue hides the fatal flaws of a coercive government-controlled education system that, by its nature, will give kids a third-rate education no matter how small the classes are. That is because a government-monopoly public-school system strangles a fiercely-competitive free-market in education, and forces parents to send their kids to schools that have no fundamental accountability to parents.
Smaller class sizes also has a unique benefit that public-school employees and their unions love. When class sizes are reduced, the schools have to hire more teachers. More teachers means more union dues and more power for the unions. Could this be the hidden reason why public-school authorities keep asking for smaller class sizes?
The only way to give our kids a decent education is to scrap the public-school system, permanently. When parents can choose which school, teachers, or teaching methods they think best from a supermarket of education choices in an education free market, then class size won't matter much anymore. Only competence and results will matter.
© 2006 Joel Turtel - All Rights
E-Mails are used strictly for NWVs alerts, not for sale
Joel Turtel, author of Public Schools, Public Menace: How Public Schools Lie To Parents and Betray Our Children, holds a degree in Psychology. For the last ten years he has served as an Education Policy Analyst, studying the climate of today's public schools and its effect on children and parents.
Mr. Turtel has written two books, published over fifty articles, and has been interviewed in both print and broadcast media on the subject. His latest book, Public Schools, Public Menace has garnered national media attention – recently, for example, Dr. Laura Schlessinger featured the book on her nationally syndicated radio show.
Joel Turtel is available to discuss his book Public Schools, Public Menace in the media, at conferences, or with individual groups. Be warned though, you may be shocked by the revelations he has uncovered in America's public-school system.
However, many studies show that smaller class size does not guarantee that children get a better education.