Saturday, November 11, 2006

Public school class size doesn't matter

Public-school authorities often complain that classes are too large. They claim that teachers can't be expected to give their students the individual attention they need if there are too many students in the class. On the surface, this excuse seems to have some merit. Common sense tells us that in smaller classes, teachers can give more time and attention to each student.

However, many studies show that smaller class size does not guarantee that children get a better education. The pupil-to-teacher ratio in public schools in the mid-1960s was about 24 to 1. This ratio dropped to about 17 to 1 by the early 1990s, which means the average class size fell by 28 percent. Yet, during the same time period, SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) test scores fell from 954 to 896, a decline of 58 points or 6 percent. In other words, student academic achievement (as measured by SAT scores) dropped at the same time that class sizes got smaller.

Eric Hanushek, a University of Rochester economist, examined 277 published studies on the effects of teacher-pupil ratios and class-size averages on student achievement. He found that only 15 percent of these studies showed a positive improvement in achievement with smaller class size, 72 percent found no statistically significant effect, and 13 percent found a negative effect on achievement.

It seems to go against common sense that student academic achievement could drop with smaller class sizes. One reason this happens in public schools is that when class sizes drop, schools have to create more classes to cover all the students in the school. Schools then have to hire more teachers for the increased number of classes. However, public schools across the country are already having trouble finding qualified teachers to fill their classrooms. As a result, when reduced class sizes increase the need for more teachers, schools then often have to hire less-qualified teachers.

As we might expect, teacher quality is far more important than class size in determining how children do in school. William Sanders at the University of Tennessee studied this issue. He found that teacher quality is almost twenty times more important than class size in determining students' academic achievement in class. As a result, reducing class sizes can lead to the contrary effect of hurting students' education, rather than helping.

Similarly, a study on class size by policy analyst Jennifer Buckingham of the Sydney-based Center for Independent Studies found no reliable evidence that students in smaller classes do better academically or that teachers spend significantly more time with them in these classes. Buckingham concluded that a 20 percent class-size reduction cost the Australian government an extra $1,150 per student, yet added only an additional two minutes of instruction per day for each child.

Reducing class sizes can't solve the core problems with public schools. No matter how small classes become, nothing will help if the teachers are ill-trained or their teaching methods are useless, destructive, or idiotic. For example, if English teachers use the whole-language or "balanced" reading instruction method, they can cripple students' ability to read no matter how small the classes are. If math teachers use "fuzzy" or "integrated" math, they can turn kids into math cripples. Even if classrooms had one teacher for every student, that child's ability to read or do math could still be wrecked if the teacher used these destructive reading or math-instruction methods.

In fact, under these conditions, smaller class sizes could give a teacher more time to damage (not intentionally) each student's reading or math abilities. So if a public school has teachers who are poorly trained or who are forced to use idiotic teaching methods by their supervisors, the ironic situation can occur where the smaller the class, the more damage the teacher can do to her students.

Here's an analogy on this issue of class size vs. teaching methods. Suppose a horseback-riding instructor was teaching one little girl to ride. This instructor's teaching method was to tell the bewildered girl to sit backwards on the horse, facing the horse's rump, hold onto the horse's tail, and say "giddy-yap." Does it matter that the student-teacher ratio in this horseback-riding class is one-to-one if the instructor is an idiot or uses idiotic teaching methods?

When public-school apologists claim that reducing class-size will "fix" the public schools, they are only dragging out the same 40-year old excuse that if, "you just give us more money, we can finally give your kids a decent education." That's because, as I noted above, whenever you reduce class sizes, a school district needs more money to hire more teachers.

The class-size smokescreen issue hides the fatal flaws of a coercive government-controlled education system that, by its nature, will give kids a third-rate education no matter how small the classes are. That is because a government-monopoly public-school system strangles a fiercely-competitive free-market in education, and forces parents to send their kids to schools that have no fundamental accountability to parents.

Smaller class sizes also has a unique benefit that public-school employees and their unions love. When class sizes are reduced, the schools have to hire more teachers. More teachers means more union dues and more power for the unions. Could this be the hidden reason why public-school authorities keep asking for smaller class sizes?

The only way to give our kids a decent education is to scrap the public-school system, permanently. When parents can choose which school, teachers, or teaching methods they think best from a supermarket of education choices in an education free market, then class size won't matter much anymore. Only competence and results will matter.



Final year history undergraduates at the University of Bristol have complained after learning that they will have only two hours of lecture time a week. The students who paid 1,200 pounds each in tuition fees claim that they are not getting value for money as each class they attend will cost the equivalent of 20 pounds an hour.

With students who started courses this year now paying fees of 3,000 pounds, universities are bracing themselves for similar complaints from students and parents, who want to see the extra fee income spent on increased contact time with lecturers and smaller class sizes.

Huge variations in the number of teaching hours of academics in different disciplines were revealed in a report last week by the Higher Education Policy Institute. Students in medicine and dentistry have the highest number of contact hours at 21.4 hours a week, but teaching time is as low as eight hours a week in subjects such as history and philosophical studies.

The University of Bristol claims its new history timetable has been designed to allow time for "independent learning" and says students should be doing independent research rather than sitting in class. But Steven Hayes, 20, from Birmingham, said: "When I saw the two hours on my timetable I was shocked. It really does make one wonder whether to commute for those two hours a week." Another student told the university's newspaper Epigram: "I thought I was paying to be educated by leading academics, not for a library membership and a reading list."

When the 100 students applied for the history degree course they were told there would be a minimum of six hours a week tuition in the final year. They found out that had been reduced by two-thirds when they were handed their timetables last month. In the first two years they received between seven and nine hours of class time but the third year was designated as being "research led".

Teachers at the department claim the changes were made after "considerable consideration with students, staff and leading historians from other universities". Dr Brendan Smith, head of history, said: "The new syllabus has been introduced at a time when pressures on resources are incredible and we have to make decisions about which forms of teaching will be most stimulating and effective."

Students say they chose the University of Bristol because it offered more structured teaching than Oxford or Cambridge.


U.K.: Exams watchdogs bid to remove World Wars from curriculum sparks outrage

Exams watchdogs have been accused of drawing up plans to allow schools to drop the two world wars from history lessons. They want teachers to cut back on world history in a drive to improve pupils' performance in the three Rs. But Government exams chiefs stood accused yesterday of indicating to schools they will be allowed to ditch the first and second world wars altogether.

The proposal from the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, which emerged just three days before Remembrance Sunday, provoked furious and widespread condemnation from war veterans, historians and politicians from all parties. Education Secretary Alan Johnson said the plan must be "stamped on" immediately. He said he had heard reports that the QCA intended to allow teachers to drop the wars from the syllabus. He went on: "If it is an idea anywhere - and I have heard the same rumours - it needs to be squashed pretty quickly and I will make sure I do that."

However the Government itself faced criticism for ordering the secondary school curriculum to be slimmed down in the first place. Ministers had asked the QCA to trim the content of crucial subjects to give teachers more time to run catch-up classes for pupils still lacking basic skills. Planned changes for history involve specifically highlighting the British Empire to try to reverse years of neglect of the subject. But guidance on other British, European and world events would be slashed.

According to drafts produced earlier this year, studies on six compulsory periods of time would be replaced with an emphasis on themes running throughout time. Pupils currently study mandatory units including one headed "The World after 1900", which covers World War I, World War II, the Holocaust, the Cold War and the Vietnam War. But the planned guidance shown to some schools failed to specifically mention the world wars. One teacher said: "It is very British-centric. It does not mention world and European history at all."

In designing the shake-up of lessons for 11 to 14-year-olds, the QCA is acting on ministers' concerns that teachers are not left enough time to ensure pupils are mastering English and maths. The QCA has previously said that schools are concentrating too much on teaching about "Hitler and Henry" and should broaden their pupils' knowledge in history.

But now Mr Johnson has moved to slap down the QCA for apparently going too far. Asked about the reports at a Westminster lunch, he said: "I've heard the same thing and if this is an idea that the QCA are developing or anyone else we should make sure that it is stamped on very quickly. "We need to have the two 20th century world wars as part of our curriculum. "We need it not just because we are wearing poppies and coming up to Remembrance Sunday and they need to know what they are remembering, which I think is crucial and very important. "But I think also because it is a crucial part of where we are now...if you think of how the European Union developed out of the conflict of two world wars of the 20th century and it is so relevant to everything that we do in this country now. "If it is an idea anywhere - and I have heard the same rumours - it needs to be squashed pretty quickly and I will make sure I do that."

However veterans' groups expressed dismay and outrage that dropping the two world wars from compulsory studies was even being considered. Bill Bond, founder of the Battle of Britain Historical Society, said: "This is really very, very sad and also very dangerous. You can't learn from mistakes if you don't know about them. "If young people are not taught about mistakes that were made these mistakes will get made again. For example, the rise of fascism. Young people may not even know what the word means. "History is an easy target when it comes to cutting down but this is nonsense. We should be teaching the basics as a matter of course but history with it."

The QCA last night denied planning to drop the world wars from the curriculum. In a statement, it said: "The QCA has not given advice to the Secretary of State on this matter. "The two world wars are a significant part of the curriculum in history and they will always be an important part of classroom teaching. There are no plans to change this. It appears some people have been misinformed." A spokesman added: "The world wars will be in there but it is premature to say exactly where in programmes of study." New draft syllabuses are due out early next year.



For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

The NEA and similar unions worldwide believe that children should be thoroughly indoctrinated with Green/Left, feminist/homosexual ideology but the "3 R's" are something that kids should just be allowed to "discover"

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