Monday, October 20, 2008

281 Referendum YES281 : Teacher/student Ratio Matters ?

A Brief Lead In
Below is correspondence I had on Speed Gibson's blog ( ) regarding why maintaining low teacher to student ratios is "critical" or "unimportant. (see link for continuing dialogue) Of course I like my opinion, what do the readers think ? Remember to Vote Yes on Option 1 & 2.

My Initial Vote YES Question / Opinion
Please help me understand your belief that teacher to student ratios do not matter in post elementary classrooms. I am certain I can find research on both sides of this argument, however a quick theory test I use is to take them to extremes.

According to your statement: 100 students in a classroom with 1 teacher would learn as much with equal depth of understanding as 2 students in a class with 1 teacher. Given the same alloted time this makes no sense to me. In the 100 student class the likelihood of interuptions is higher, chance of identifying disruptive students is lower, time for answering individual questions is lower, ability to adjust for learning styles is lower, etc. Whereas with 2 students, disruptions would be low, you can identify the source of disruptions, questions can be answered, etc.

I believe that ratios do matter greatly, however they can vary significantly based on: maturity of students, students desire to learn the subject, complexity of subject, student capability, etc. My oldest child is in 8th grade pre-AP math at PMS in a class with 40 students. Though there is not much time for questions and the classroom is packed, the students want good grades and therefore the class is tolerably manageable.(ie good thing I have a background in math to help answer the questions...) However, I would not wish 40 non-motivated 8th graders on my worst enemy. Just 4 goof offs can turn the classroom into a zoo and waste most of the lecture time.

Just a note, my wife helped me understand one of the key factors that drives up the ratios in the common classes. Between the typical students and the special needs students is a group of students that require a lot of extra help. These students often end up in very low ratio special classes to try and help them overcome whatever challenges they face in their lives. Of course this is an uphill battle since often the kids don't have academic or adult support outside of the school. However a good social conscience and No Child Left Behind require we make an effort.

A Vote No Opinion
Sorry, "Give", but you are not allowed to take the class size discussion to extremes, because those do not need to be studied. In reviews of the thousands of studies on this subject, the only conclusion that can be reasonably supported is that class size matters ONLY below third grade. Below about 16 kids, even kindergartners do not show improvement. Above third grade, you must stipulate certain common sense upper limits: that the students must physically fit, that there must be enough other facilities (such as chemistry lab benches-- thus the "purpose specific classroom inventory") and that discipline be maintained. What you will not find a study to prove is that going from a class of 28 to a class of 26 (the district's numbers) has any significant effect on student achievement, and it is therefore NOT worth another few million taxpayer dollars to achieve.

My Vote YES Response / Opinion
Since the simplified discussion does not appeal to you. Please provide links to a few of these studies and their results. (or drop me an email at Given my background in research and statistics I would like to review them and understand the studies/topic better. Til then, I still think fewer kids equals less disruption and better teacher student interaction. (most people think 10 in a Sunday school class is a handful. and they'd squirm at 20. and they can not even imagine 30 to 40) By the way, I found the "discipline can be maintained' factor most interesting. I think this is one of my key arguments for reducing ratios.

1 comment:

Colleen the hilarious said...

I want to give the teacher perspective to large class sizes. Last year I saw 215 high school students each day as a district 281 teacher. It wasn't the size of each individual class that was as overwhelming as the amount of work to grade tests & homework, manage individual student needs and communicate with parents. I couldn't plan interactive activities because of lack of space and resources. I often could not get to all of the questions students had during work time.
Students sometimes need an individual explanation to truly understand concepts. The visual learner needs a map, the auditory learner needs to talk it through, the hands-on learner needs a 3D object to grasp. This is simply not possible when classrooms are overflowing. Students deserve a variety of experiences to learn best. They deserve to be missed when they are absent from school. They deserve to be challenged by homework and tests. Teachers want to do everything they can to help students learn. Large classes force teachers to think only of survival. Our children deserve better!