Bigger Is Better

…except when you’re talking about class sizes.  That’s “received wisdom”, isn’t it?  Eduwonk links to an article that begs to differ.

Breaking up large classes into several smaller ones helps students, but the improvements in many cases come in spite of what teachers do, new research suggests.

New findings from four nations, including the USA, tell a curious story. Small classes work for children, but that’s less because of how teachers teach than because of what students feel they can do: Get more face time with their teacher, for instance, or work in small groups with classmates.

Understand what this means.  When classes are made smaller, that means more mediocre and bad teachers are hired than good ones.  Then, more students are exposed to bad teachers and bad teaching.  So contrary to the received wisdom, smaller class size is not necessarily a good thing for most students, unless something else good happens to counteract that effect.

Fortunately, something else does.  Students behave better in small classes.  There are fewer places to hide, and they get a larger percentage of the teacher’s time.

The data, from the USA, England, Hong Kong and Switzerland, were presented Monday at the first day of the American Educational Research Association’s annual meeting, the world’s largest gathering of education researchers.

The findings are consistent with what researchers already know, Gamoran says. “There is not good evidence that teachers modify their instruction in response to changes in class size. Some teachers are taking advantage of small classes and others are not. There’s a lot of variability.”

In other words (and to paraphrase a famous politician) “It’s the teaching, stupid.”

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