Whitefield Academy Blog
Small Class Size: Does it Really Matter?
My husband and I found ourselves staring this question in the face as we were choosing where to send our daughters for elementary school. A smaller student to teacher ratio tends to cost more money, so is it really worth it?
What the Research Says
A brief was recently published by Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach at the National Education Policy Center answering the question we are asking: “Does class size really matter?” Schanzenbach argues that small class size (15-20 students) not only matters but “is an important determinant of a variety of student outcomes, ranging from test scores to broader life outcomes.” She simply states that “children learn more and teachers are more effective in smaller classes.” Schanzenbach also looks to the STAR class size study where students were randomly assigned to small, middle, and large classes for a period of four years. As they have tracked these students throughout their education, they found that the students from the small classes consistently outperformed their peers.
The Realities of Large Classes
Along with the research, we decided to evaluate our personal classroom experiences. Before becoming a mom, I taught high school English in downtown Philadelphia. At my first school, my largest class had twenty-five students with about 130 students in my classes overall. I remember struggling to learn everyone’s names and keep track of all their assignments, not to mention fostering meaningful relationships with them. I had students coming to me with real, larger than life problems, and I often had to shuffle them off to counselors because my load was more than I could handle. The squeaky wheels were truly the only ones who got the grease in my large classes. Trouble-makers, learners who fell behind, and those who were advanced seemed to glean the most of my attention, while the quiet learners floated through.
The Realities of Small Classes
The second school where I worked in Philadelphia was a private Christian school. These students were from the same neighborhoods and in the same situations as the students at the first school, but there was a total of about 90 students in the entire high school and fewer than 20 in each of my classes. I knew each and every one of my students and could work one on one with each of them. I was able to write college recommendation letters genuinely stating the strengths and weaknesses of each student. I was able to stay in touch with numerous students through their college and post college years. The small student to teacher ratio and low enrollment enabled me to be a better teacher and to recognize the needs of each of my students on a daily basis.
Our Family’s Conclusion
Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach puts it eloquently when she says, “Money saved today by increasing class sizes will result in more substantial social and educational costs in the future.” To us, spending more on an education that ensured a close-knit environment and long-lasting relationships where teachers were invested in the complete people our children become wasn’t just a good idea but a necessity.
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