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Does Class Size Affect Learning?
Does Class Size Affect Learning?

AIR DATE: October 3, 2012

According to a new report from the Nevada Department of Education, the student to teacher ratio at the Clark County School District increased by one student last year, putting the average class size at 23.  In science and social studies classes that number is higher, with an average of 27 students in each classroom.

Deputy Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky says the district is taking steps to address the problem of growing class sizes, which at the beginning of the school year was extreme enough to result in some students having to sit on the floor.

“We’ve done everything we can to accommodate the classrooms by adding in desks,” says Skorkowsky.  “We recently had our staffing day for the Clark County School District where we were able to reallocate teachers based on the ratios that are set forth by the district, to be able to provide additional help to schools get class size down.”

Educators are divided as to whether smaller classes have a major impact on student performance. Some studies, including a McKinsey Group report mentioned by Mitt Romney on the campaign trail last spring, suggest that the effect of class size on achievement is minimal. Romney drew criticism from some educators for suggesting that other factors, including teacher effectiveness and school choice, are more important than the number of students in the classroom.    

But Leonie Haimson, Executive Director of Class Size Matters, says that choosing a school isn’t an option for some families, and that reductions in class size are the only solution that has been effective across socioeconomic groups.

“What the Institute of Education Sciences shows is that there are only a handful of reforms that have worked, and class size is one of them,” says Haimson. “I don’t think the whole notion of teacher effectiveness can be isolated from the context in which they work. When you poll teachers themselves, 90 to 95 percent of them say the most effective way to improve their ability to teach is to reduce class size.”

Dan Goldhaber, an education researcher at the University of Washington Bothell, says that only significant reductions in class size have an impact, and even then only on certain populations.

“The research that gets most often cited about class size, and it gets cited in a very general way, is the Tennessee STAR study,” says Goldhaber. “What the STAR study found is that class size reductions made a difference when there were very large reductions of about 8 students, and you got down to classes with about 16 to 18 kids in a class.”

Goldhaber agrees with Haimson that the biggest impact was on students from disadvantaged backgrounds, including  minority students, low achieving students and high poverty students.

“When you looked at different student groups or at grades further up it didn’t seem like class size reduction had a big impact on achievement. But it clearly did to those (disadvantaged) student populations,” says Goldhaber.


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My elementary child made A's through out elementary. We started middle school this year. It was recommended he get into advanced math and English classes due to his scores. Also to apply to Magnet schools but we didnt win the lottery. We are now failing every subject. Average class size of 33 students. Talked with all teachers his counceler and still no improvement. In fact during this meeting the counceler told me in my sons presents grades in middle school don't matter!!! I am sick to my stomach about CCSD. The lack of what I like to call workmanship on the staffs behalf is just nonexistent. I am a product of CCSD lack of workmanship. I dropped out in 10th. I was fortunate to learn a great trade as an Electrician. My journeyman was an old timer why taught me WORKMENSHIP. I want better for my son's and step daughters! I'm lost! I need help! All I want is for my children to have the oppertuinity to succeed! CCSD is denying them this.
RobertMar 24, 2013 00:38:04 AM
I've volunteered in class rooms with 15-20 elementary students here in Las Vegas and then with classes of almost 40 students. Students in smaller classes in this age group were much more responsive, had less distractions, and were much more successful in completing projects. In the larger classes, it was impossible to achieve order in the classroom, get students to participate, engage, and complete projects. It was just about impossible to get students to do a single thing. I dont understand how any teacher can teach a classroom much longer than the one day I get to volunteer. The teachers in the larger classrooms were as strict as it was necessary to get the students to participate and listen, but with so many of them there was only so much she could do. My sympathy to them.
suzetteOct 2, 2012 10:30:59 AM
I just wanted to point out that the conditions affecting Wright E.S. are also affecting Reedom E.S. the other school out her in Mountain's Edge. Both our schools in our community are over crowded with portable classrooms and luchrooms on the play ground. Just last week, an additional fifth grade class was created to alleviate the other fifthgrade classes. Classroom size does matter. This is the future of NV we are talking about. Something HAS to be done. All be it raising taxes.
Tamara BeetenOct 2, 2012 10:05:00 AM
I've been wanting and waiting to have this conversation for a long time. As a former 6th grade reading teacher in the CCSD, I feel very strongly that class size does matter, especially in the early grades, and in those schools with a large population of "at-risk" students. My class sizes averaged 38-45 students. Honestly, most of my time was spent "teaching to the middle." There was very little time for individualized instruction during class time. I did offer before and after school tutoring; however, most of the students were simply too tired to want to come in after school for help. A majority of my students were "on their own" after school, with no parental supervision, or support with homework. It's really a matter of common sense. If there's support and assistance with learning at home, then most likely a student will do well in school. For those without resources at home, smaller class sizes are an absolute necessity, for a child to receive the indiviualized instruction they need to succeed.
Sylvia DenningOct 2, 2012 09:54:06 AM
Not to jump the gun, but the Institute of Education Sciences identifies class size reduction as one of only a handful of reforms that have proven to work to improve learning through rigorous evidence. Check out my website for more.
Leonie HaimsonOct 1, 2012 19:07:46 PM
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