Tuesday, February 26, 2008

How much do smaller classes improve teaching?

From Times Online
February 25, 2008

How much do smaller classes improve teaching?

Alexandra Frean, Education Editor

The big question in the debate on class sizes is not whether smaller classes
produce better academic results - the answer to that is, ?of course they do?
- a more pertinent question is, ?by how much??

In attempting to answer this question by systematically weighing up the
likely benefits and costs, Dylan William, deputy director of the the
Institute of Education in London has come up with interesting answers.

Reducing class sizes across the entire state sector would involve building
new classrooms and increasing the teacher workforce by as much as 50 per
cent, which would be expensive and might be politically difficult to

Even then, you could not be assured of success. Apart from the raw material
? the kids- teaching quality is the most important variable in any
classroom. But Professor Williams fears that bringing in the 150,000 new
teachers that would be needed may allow into the profession many who
shouldn?t be there.

This is what he has to say on the matter: ?When you reduce class size all
you do is bring in a lot more teachers who are worse than the ones that you
have already got. We would need 150,000 more teachers to reduce class sizes
to 20. They will probably be the ones who didn?t get jobs at their first

?What might be a reasonable size effect will disappear with poor teachers.
If you don?t do it carefully, you find that it might even reduce achievement
by hiring people who shouldn?t really be teachers.?

Far better (and more cost effective) to stick with the teacher/pupil ratios
we have and improve teaching methods, he argues.

On the same basis, incidentally, he also suggests scrapping nationally
agreed teacher pay scales.

Research tells us that the best teachers produce four times as much
progress in students than the worst. If we are willing to pay a bad teacher
25,000 a year (which is what we do), why not ? if we are serious about all
of this - pay the best teachers ?100,000 a year??

But how do you tell which are the best teachers? That's a good deal more
tricky. Professor William?s own research suggests that it is sometimes the
least popular teachers (often the strictest ones) who produce the most
progress in their pupils. But if in the process they switch pupils off
learning, however, how good are they really?

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