Everyone knows that no matter how small your classes are, having an effective, committed teacher is by far the most important ingredient in a successful classroom. However, even the most effective teachers have their limits. As budget cuts see fewer teacher and more students in each class, just how much is too much?
The 1995 STAR project was an influential study which showed the impact class sizes have on academic achievement. The project was seminal in its field because it accounted for extraneous factors like teacher training, curriculum and the socioeconomic background of teachers and students. Its findings were predictable; small class sizes (especially in K-3) contributed significantly to higher academic achievement. In the long-term, small class sizes continued to contribute to higher grades, especially with students who had previously been subjected to large class sizes. The students who enjoyed small class sizes retained their academic performance when returned to larger class sizes. Academic improvement was most pronounced in cases where class sizes were under 20 (ideal class size is said to be 17 or less).
Small class sizes, especially early in a child’s education, contribute to their improved academic performance in a number of ways. Children in small classes pay more attention and participate more in classroom activities. There was less anti-social behaviour in small classes which fostered a more caring, secure atmosphere.
Teachers with small classrooms have more time to spend with each student. They are able to build closer, more personal relationships with the students and parents. They tend to allow the students more freedom, and give more feedback on student’s progress. Teachers with smaller classes have more time to work on creative and interesting ways to teach curricula. A teacher weighed down by thirty-two children does well to remember their names, but is unlikely to be cognizant of whether your little genius is having trouble with fractions.
Reducing class sizes may not always be an option for cash strapped schools. Reducing class numbers from 25 to 14 requires 5 teachers where 3 would suffice before. This means each child will have to contribute an extra $1 000 dollars a year to pay for smaller class sizes. Even though this is a difficult target to reach, some parents like those at Greenwich Village Public School who, reticent to accept budget cuts that would see an increase in class sizes, raised the money for the extra teachers themselves.
If you have to choose, well-trained, motivated teachers and well-developed curricula are far more important than class size. Small class sizes have more of an impact in K-3 years, so invest more in your child’s education during the formative years. They can take the lessons they learn here to more crowded middle and high schools while maintaining a high academic standard.