Ask Reading Kingdom: Many elementary classrooms have over 30 children now. How do you feel this is impacting their education?

At first glance, the issue of
class size would seem to be a “no-brainer.” How could smaller classes not be better
than larger ones? But the  issue turns out to be more
complicated than one might think. In terms of student achievement, in
kindergarten through second grade, classes under 20 students have been found, but only in some cases, to lead to
higher student achievement, particularly for minority students, immigrant students and students
with a low socioeconomic status. And a promising study done at Princeton found
that students who had been in schools with smaller class sizes scored higher on
achievement tests, even when they were no longer in a smaller-class-size model
school.

If one’s focus is on costs, rather than achievement, the view is
different. The costs for smaller classes are obviously greater in terms of
requiring more teachers, more classrooms, etc. For example, increasing
the pupil/teacher ratio in the U.S. by one student has been estimated at saving
at least $12 billion per year in teacher salary costs alone, which is roughly
equivalent to the outlays of Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education
Act, the federal government’s largest single K-12 education program.

At the same time, large classes add a huge burden to
the heavy load that teachers already face. Recent findings show that more than
40% of teachers leave the profession within five years. Many factors including low
salaries and demands for steady testing 
contribute to this exodus.  But
the physical, mental and emotional requirements for dealing with large classes
are enormous and represent another factor that makes teaching such a demanding
profession.

Of probably greatest significance is a near-catastrophic
situation that goes far beyond class size. Just
as in health care, the money spent on education in the United States is among
the highest in the world, while at the same time, achievement levels are far
from the top.
Indeed, often they are at the bottom of what other developed
countries achieve.

Basically, the issue of class size is just one factor in a vast range of issues that beset the education industry. And, again just as in health care, the solutions offered frequently serve to make matters worse. For example, the endless and costly testing that is conducted nationwide was  introduced to supposedly raise standards. This was behind the No Child Left Behind act (NCLB) enacted under President George W. Bush. The goal of improved performance has not been achieved, while at the same time, states now spend five to six times the funds on testing than they did before NCLB— with more than 90% of this going to private testing companies. If the vast education funds that are spent were used wisely and if waste and corruption were reduced, there would be no need to even ask about a reduction in class size. It could easily be put in place –along with many other needed improvements.

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