Right-Sizing the Classroom

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February 24, 2014 by k. liz

I attended a presentation last week by Michael Hansen from American Institute for Research on the topic of Right-Sizing the Classroom. This research has been done in relation to American public schools, but I know that the topic of class size is relative to all educational settings. So, I wanted to briefly address both Hansen’s research as well as some of my own thoughts, questions, and interactions on the topic.

Premise:

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The basic premise of Hansen’s research is that just minimizing class size does not effectively provide more students access to good teachers. He proposes, rather, that based on teacher evaluations, the teachers that are ranked the highest should have the highest number of students. By shifting students to the better teachers’ classrooms, we can effectively eliminate the bottom 5% of teaching and provide students the equivalent of somewhere between two days and two weeks of extra teaching.

Pros:

There are some obvious benefits to this research. First of all, we can eliminate the detriment of the worst teachers without actually firing them. Secondly, we can increase learning opportunities for all students, not just the ones in the better teachers’ classrooms.

Questions:

However, although there are some benefits, there were some alarming problems that jumped out to me as I listened to the research and research implications. And, I know I’m not completely alone, as some of these thoughts were echoed in the subsequent debate that was held after the presentation.

  • What incentives do we give to teachers to reward them for their extra work? More students = more work.
  • How does this solve any of the Union/tenure problems that are already facing schools? If we offer cash incentives to better teachers, will there not be an outcry of discrimination, since it will be on a subjective scale that the teachers are rewarded, not based on certification or qualification?
  • How does this practice influence morale in a school? Even if it is never pointedly stated, if I have the smallest class, I know exactly what that means. What motivation does that give me to improve or work hard?

I think that these are some pretty big issues. Issues that may be big enough to hold back on the idea of class-shifting.

Best Thought from the Event:

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The best thought that I came away with from this event was this (paraphrased from Linda Guidi):

We need to elevate the profession. We need to make teaching more attractive and great teaching more attainable. Until culture’s take on teaching changes, the profession is going to suffer under the oppression of society.

Interactions Regarding the Topic:

I had a few twitter interactions regarding the event topic. I’d like to share two of them with you, and I would welcome your thoughts on the matter!!

@klizbarker: #teacheraccess could we hope that the truly great teachers would step up to larger class sizes w/o incentives? B/c they love their kids?

@mgininger: @klizbarker I think teachers deserve more pay if they take on more responsibility. Not a bad thing to pay our best, the most. #TeacherAccess

@klizbarker: @mgininger true, but then how do you avoid complications with poor teachers wanting the same treatment?

@klizbarker: @mgininger I just think that a mark of a great teacher is their heart, and for them money isn’t the focus… I think they should be rewarded but I also don’t think we should jeopardize our children’s education over a payroll argument… Not an easy issue!!

@mgininger: @klizbarker Agreed.

@mgininger: @klizbarker Poor teachers wanting that same treatment would need to improve for more students/more pay. That’s not a bad thing.

Again, I completely agree with the line of thinking that teachers should be compensated for more work, but just how do we deal with the fact that these teacher evaluations are subjective?

One more interaction:

@klizbarker: #teacheraccess could we hope that the truly great teachers would step up to larger class sizes w/o incentives? B/c they love their kids?

@kreed328: @klizbarker how many classes should I teach and how many students should I have?

@klizbarker: @kreed328 haha. Not gonna say I have a clue! How many can you give your heart to without burning out?

@kreed328: @klizbarker honestly once the number exceeds 80-90 over 5 or 6 classes the work becomes overwhelming

@klizbarker: @kreed328 I think every teach is different, and I think it’s key to not depreciate good teachers by overloading them.

@klizbarker: @kreed328 we don’t want to equalize our great and poor teachers, we want to increase opportunity for student success

@kreed328: @klizbarker schools w/disadv S should have great teachers/sm classes; I don’t mind class of 25 motivated on grade level kids

@klizbarker: @kreed328 the topic this morning has me brainstorming ways to get sts helping each other out… more or less balancing the teachers…

So, there you have it, the topic of Right-Sizing the Classroom and my oh-so-educated response. I realize that I am completely unqualified to speak in the public school realm in America, but these are my educated thoughts on an educational matter. I’m really curious to hear your thoughts, both in the public school realm and in language learning classes. I prefer classes to be more than 5 and less than 20 when I’m teaching second language learners, but what to you is ideal? What is the biggest class you have taught, and did it work, or were either you or the students short-changed?

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