Smaller classes are not a cure-all

Today's Chronicle has an editorial on the need to keep classroom sizes small, which the editors think helps students:

IN Texas, state law requires public schools to have no more than 22 students per classroom in the lower grades. Smaller classes allow teachers to give students the minimum individual attention they need to learn to read, write and calculate.

Smaller classes correlate with recent academic progress. However, the law is ineffective if school districts are allowed and even encouraged to avoid its strictures.

Last week, State Education Commissioner Shirley Neeley withdrew a directive that would have made it easier for school districts to increase class sizes. With the approval of the school board, superintendents could have requested an exemption on their signature alone, on a letter rather than a waiver form.

The commissioner claims she was just trying to streamline the paperwork. However, Texans do not want to make it more convenient to avoid the requirement. School districts should find it easier to maintain smaller classes than gain a waiver. Neeley's attempted streamlining sends the message that virtually any request for a waiver will be granted.

It would have been helpful if the editors had provided some numbers to back up this assertion: "Smaller classes correlate with recent academic progress." I have no reason to dispute it, but it would still be nice to see the study or numbers the editors are using to back that up.

Smaller classes are not a cure-all for public education woes. It is certainly a plus, in many parents' eyes to have their kids be able to get some personalized attention. The problem is that if the curriculum is poor or the teacher is not well-trained, then smaller classes aren't going to make much difference.

Edward Lazear, of the Hoover Institute, addressed this issue succinctly a few years ago, when he said smaller classes are not a magic bullet. His take on this is that smaller classes benefit disadvantaged and special-needs children the most. In the majority of circumstances, a well-trained teacher, supported by a good curriculum and good classroom discipline will be very effective in teaching, as evidenced by the general success of Catholic schools.

And, of course, smaller class sizes equals more teachers which (surprise!) is supported by the nation's teachers unions. Go figure.

Posted by Anne Linehan @ 11/02/04 06:45 AM | Print |

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