Budget reforms and teacher cuts are once again putting schools back into the media spotlight. While the topic has always goes back to test, reform, test, reform, test, reform, parents worry that with all the tax hikes, redrawn county lines, and new statewide exams that their children still aren’t receiving the best education that can be provided for them.
Their concerns should be taken seriously. The impacts of education, whether good or bad, are far-reaching and long-lasting. Failing to properly educate young people will not only have detrimental effects on their personal lives, but for the society as well.
With that said, perhaps one of the best reforms doesn't involve budget shrinks, teacher cuts, or higher taxes, but simply reducing class room sizes.
Here is why class size reduction might be the best way to save our schools.
What are the benefits of smaller class rooms?
Common sense dictates that smaller class room sizes translates into better student performance. Teachers can focus on individual students and provide additional instruction when needed. Other benefits include:
- Fewer distractions and fewer disciplinary problems
- Flexible approach in instruction and teaching methods
- More student interaction and participation
- More time to teach and cover additional material through engaging activities
However, many critics say that’s not enough citing that the research is insubstantial or providing mixed results. Yet there are programs such as the STAR (Students-Teacher Achievement Ratio) project in Tennessee that have made a good case for smaller class sizes.
The study was conducted on a controlled group of 10,000 students (one of the largest of its kind) reducing the class size from 26 students to 17 students and 22 students to 13 students. The study even ensured there were enough qualified teachers for every class as well as sufficient classroom space. The result? Reducing class room sizes boosted the academic performance of grade school students, especially amongst disadvantaged and minority children.
In fact, according to the Institute of Education Sciences, class size reduction is one of only four, evidence-based reforms that improves student achievement substantially. Studies from Tennessee to California (and many states in between) have provided solid evidence supporting that reducing class sizes improves a student's overall academic performance including test scores, better grades, and higher attendance rates.
Does it benefit all grade levels?
Admittedly, the general mass of studies focuses on children in primary schools (k-3). However, there are several studies that show class size reduction is correlated with higher test scores and lower dropout rates for students in middle and upper grades.
One of the farthest reaching was a comprehensive report conducted by the United States Department of Education. They analyzed the performance levels of students in 2,561 schools (50 from each state) throughout the country. After screening out student backgrounds, the study found that the strongest factor correlated with student performance was smaller class room sizes – not school sizes or teacher qualifications - regardless of whether or not the student came from a poor, middleclass, or affluent family. Moreover, the gains from the upper grade levels surpassed the gains from the lower grade levels, proving that smaller class rooms may actually benefit older students more.
Are there any far-reaching benefits?
Class size reduction may actually impact how well a student performs later in life. After reevaluating the STAR project, researchers discovered that those students who attended smaller class room sizes earned higher incomes than students who attended larger classrooms. In fact, small class rooms are one of only two factors so far proven to create better life outcomes for students.
One study from Italy found that the size of a college student's introductory lecture class had a strong correlation between achievement levels and income after graduation; the bigger the class, the lower the levels. Their baseline suggests that increasing class size by 20 students, cuts a student's future wage by approximately 6 percent, showing how classroom sizes can affect life performance.
Another study from the University of Richmond also found that class sizes with 35-40 students had a negative impact on a student's analytical and critical thinking abilities.
Not only do these studies show the benefits of reducing class room sizes, but they also show the adverse effects larger class rooms have on student’s academic and life performance.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise really. Education is one of the biggest determiners to a person’s overall success in life. Therefore, addressing problems in the system should remain top priority and should not be taken lightly.