Monday, January 25, 2010

Does class size matter?

Many of you know that SFUSD is considering increasing class size next year to help cut the budget. For SFGate I'm working on a story on the issue and I'll be looking at how the number of kids in a classroom affects the learning experience. I'd love to get some quotes from parents. If you have anything to share please email me at Thanks! Kate


  1. I would love to hear from parents currently in public school what the conversations are about the possible class size increase. What are parents, teachers, principals saying? Will some schools be able to keep class size down? Some schools I visited don't seem to have classrooms large enough to even accommodate more kids.

  2. Of course it does! So many schools fundraise to get class size reduction or teacher's helpers for a reason. Every kid in the class deserves an equal amount of time with the teacher but as classes keep getting bigger and bigger teachers will be struggling just to get the needy kids to hit bare minimum and not have time to help the average kids excel. Unless the kids are all perfectly behaved all of the time how can 1 person monitor and manage more than 22 young kids at a time? If you ask any of the K teachers, who got an additional 2 to 3 kids dumped on them this year, I think they will all tell you even 1 kid makes a huge difference. There is going to be an imbalance of time spent on kids who have behavior or other issues just getting them to calm down or catch up so that the entire class can progress. The kids that are fine or quiet or just doing their work will lose out on any individualized attention because they are not demanding it and making the grade on their own. Good teachers are going to get burned out real fast as their classes keep growing and growing..

  3. Every time I stress about the class size increases and complain to my mother she reminds me that when she was in elementary school (in SF) in the 50's and 60's there were 40 kids a class and California was one of the top states in the nation for education...

  4. Parochial schools have much higher numbers of students per teacher. (I think that St. Brendan's is at 40.) Of course, the student population is much different at a Catholic school.

    I know that public school parents like small classes, but I wonder what the research says about the results.

  5. Overviews of Research on Small Classes
    Over the past 2 decades there have been many summaries of research on the relationship of class size to academic achievement. Three are particularly worthy of note because of their comprehensiveness, and because they planted the seeds for much of the research that followed.
    Without doubt the most widely cited review is the classic Meta-analysis of research on the relationship of class size and achievement (Glass & Smith, 1978). The authors collected and summarized nearly 80 studies of the relationship of class size with academic performance that yielded over 700 class-size comparisons on data from nearly 900,000 pupils. The two primary conclusions drawn from this material are:

    reduced class size can be expected to produce increased academic achievement (p. iv); and

    [t]he major benefits from reduced class size are obtained as the size is reduced below 20 pupils (p. v).
    Although the extensiveness of the Glass-Smith meta-analysis was commendable, the selection of studies to include was subject to justifiable criticism. A number of studies were of short duration; many compared normal-sized classes to one-on-one tutoring; other studies did not include "realistic" class sizes as their comparison groups; and at least one study related to instruction in non-academic subjects (i.e., tennis). In spite of these deficiencies, however, the two conclusions drawn by Glass and Smith have endured and have received further support.

    A compilation of studies examined by Educational Research Service (Robinson & Wittebols, 1986; Robinson, 1990) is noteworthy because of its extensiveness--more than

  6. Interesting article on this topic:

  7. Parochial schools often have much larger classes but what is the student to teacher ratio? In public schools it is 1:22 right now for lower grades.

    Also parochials often have only 1/2 day Ks where public is full day. In parochial the class sizes get smaller as the grade levels go up many go from 1 large K class to 2 smaller first grades and so on.

  8. I daresay when your mother was in school, teachers handled very different classroom environments. There was no bilingual education; everything was taught in English and kids sank or swam. There was no integration of children with severe behavioral and learning issues into mainstream classes. Schools were tied to neighborhoods and in most cases served more homogeneous communities. Corporal punishment was allowed, lending a certain fear-based order. Even in very early grades, kids who were extremely disruptive had to go elsewhere. There was a very disturbed, violent boy in my first grade whose parents had to take him out of public school and make other arrangements for him. That would not happen today. Teachers left children to their own social interactions and and bullying usually went unchecked, unless it turned physically violent. Non-academically oriented kids were frequently out of the system before high school graduation.

    We're never going back to those conditions, so I find it extremely irksome when my mother goes on and on with her "back in my day" stories.

  9. 2:44 PM said "Parochial schools often have much larger classes but what is the student to teacher ratio? In public schools it is 1:22 right now for lower grades."

    I don't believe that parochial schools in San Francisco have assistant teachers or other adults in the classroom full time. So the student teacher ratio is like 35:1 or 40:1 for 1st through 4th grade. (Kindergarten is special, as pointed out.)

    I think that the fact that they don't have to be inclusive of language or behavioral issues is a big reason why it works.

  10. I don't believe that parochial schools in San Francisco have assistant teachers or other adults in the classroom full time.

    I don't think that is correct. Many that I know have an aide in the classroom most of the day.

    It has also been my experience that parochial schools have their fair share of behavioral issues. Seems to be the job of the aide to keep those kids in check.

    As a public school parent, I often feel that is my job when I'm in the classroom. Stick like glue to the most disruptive, get them to focus so the teacher can do his or her job. I imagine if class size increases above 22, many more parents will be needed to perform that job.

  11. My daughter's parochial kindergarten class has 26 kids and two full time teachers, a lead teacher and an assistant. They also have two USF students per term help out in the classroom a couple of times per week. It runs from 8:00- 2:45. I think this is pretty standard for what I gather from other people with kids in nearby parochials.

  12. I teach community college and have classes of 20-50 students. With larger classes, unfortunately, I am always thinking of how my choices will affect me. "Do I really want to bring home 45 copies of this assignment to read tonight?" Even when students could use extra practice and feedback, I simply don't have enough hours in the week to do it all. I refuse to be a scantron-test-multiple-choice teacher.

  13. When I was in Kindergarten in California, there were over thirty of us in a class.

    Of course, we had two teachers, and the major academic skills taught were cutting and writing one's name.

    The nostalgia doesn't at all describe today's reality.

    For the record, studies of CSR that have clear protocols show that class size reduction works, particularly for children of color. If CSR leads to fewer fully-credentialed teachers, the impact is not as strong. In SFUSD, this is not really the situation, though.

  14. OK, here's a real life example for you Kate. My son, who is an inclusion student at a public elementary school in the city, went from a class of 20 in 3rd grade to 33 in 4th grade. The result has been just terrible. My son went from grade level at math and slightly under grade level in language arts to below grade level in math and a full grade below in language arts. The teacher, who has years of experience, has frankly admitted that the sudden expansion of class size (class sizes in 4th and 5th at this school had, for the past 14 years, hovered at 26 or 25) threw her for a loop. She found it very difficult to focus on the kids, like my son, who need extra help. Feedback from the teacher has similarly been seriously reduced. And this teacher is someone with 35years of experience who is considered one of the best teachers in the entire school at helping kids with learning issues. I don't know about the high achievers in large classes, but I can confirm that the kids with learning issues suffer mightily with larger classes.

  15. Raising K class sizes from 22 to 30 students represents a 36% increase. What would happen to your job performance if your workload was suddenly increased over a third, with no additional support?

    Here are some changes I anticipate making in my K classroom if this goes through:

    -No more "circle time." I don't have the space to make a circle that big. Circle time is important because it teaches kids to take turns, listen respectfully to each other, it gives them a chance to speak and be heard by their peers, etc. It would also take too long to get around the entire circle, K kids generally don't have that long of an attention span.

    -No more dramatic play center. Again, after adding seats for 8 additional kids I wouldn't have space for it.

    -Less one-on-one and small group time with the teacher.

    -More time spent on assessments, which means still less time to actually work with the children. Nearly all assessments in K are one-on-one.

    At my school it would also mean going from three K classes down to two. We couldn't possibly have 90 kids out on our K yard at once, I don't even think it would be legal. Nor could we fit 90 K students in the cafeteria without major changes to the school schedule to allow K its own dedicated lunch period. But of course the whole point of raising class size is to make teachers available to lay off. Keep in mind that lay offs will be done by seniority, so you could have someone who's taught K for years suddenly sent up to to a higher grade that they have little or no experience with, so there is potential to impact upper grades as well.

    I could go on, but I have to go to school...

  16. This is sooo sad. And it would affect the gains of getting resourceful parents into the public schools. I had a hard enough time getting husband to "accept" a public school in the first place, but if the class size went up to 30, I would have pause as well. And, some of you would say "good riddance" I am sure, but the commitment of people like me (both in time spent in the class room, supplies bought for the class room, and donations to the PTA) do make a difference to all the kids at the school.

    Class size so obviously makes a difference. At 22, I would say that our experienced teacher is stretched to the max as it is. She spends a considerable amount of time keeping some rather disruptive boys in check. There is no doubt that there are kids there that could be moving ahead a lot faster and be more engaged if she had more time for them, while at the same time there are kids who can barely count, and are not getting the time to catch up either. There is only so much untrained parent volunteers can do.

    There is something incredibly wrong about a place that places so little value on educating its children. By this I do not mean the parents with less resources who do the best they can, and obviously want their kids to do well in life. I mean this society as a whole, with our selfish, short-sighted priorities. I would happily vote for tax increases, and listening to friends with kids in public school in NY, I can't help wonder how they can afford more resource to the schools and we cannot. NY has a healthy dose of immigrants as well, which is something constantly being brought up on this blog as a cause for our troubles.

  17. Can class size really be increased to 30/class? Are there enough children to fill that many spaces or will they close schools and then increase class size?

  18. Personally I think the number 30 is brought up so that when they go to 25 it will seem like a relief.

    Trim the fat at the admin level and leave the schools alone!!

  19. California already has one of the highest number of kids per classroom of any state in the country and that is with CSR.

  20. Class size at the K level can be raised to 30. It could be achieved for example by cutting one K class from a school that currently has 3, then in 1st grade they'd be split into 3 classes of 20, or more likely putting some into a split grade (K/1 or 1/2). It's messy at best.

  21. to 9:54 - the whole point of raising class size is to employ fewer teachers. That's where all the cost-savings is. Cut teachers and have fewer K classes is the plan.

  22. As a parent and SFUSD teacher I can tell you class-size does make a difference. One year I taught 28 children vs. the 33 I normally have and it was amazing. I couldn't believe how wonderful the class was in terms of comprehension and behavior. When most of our schools in SF have a large number of ELLs it helps to have one to one suppport. Not so easy to do when there is one of me and 33 of them.

  23. Tennessee did a randomized controlled trial of class sizes in I think the late 1990s? Anyway that experimental study design is the gold standard for determining the effect of an intervention, and it was a truly excellent study.

    Their findings were that class size had a huge effects on student achievement, with the greatest gain when class size hit 18 students. Below that there were gains in achievement but they were less dramatic. Above about 24-25 and things went to hell--specifically, they found that dropping class size from 30 students to 25 students came with no achievement gains, because the class was still too big. There were fewer gains to smaller class sizes in the higher grades, like 4th and up.

    As I recall, they also tried adding extra teachers to classes (2 teachers in a class of 18 or 25 or 30) and found some improvement in discipline and student/teacher satisfaction but virtually no gains in achievement. I thought that was interesting.

    Anyway after I read that study, I became pretty committed to the idea of smaller class sizes. Until this discussion of increasing kindergarten sizes came up I was reasonably happy with SF public kindergartens at 22 students, because sure, it's not as good as 18 or 20 but it's certainly better than Cupertino or parochials at 30. But reading this discussion of increased class size is very depressing. Small class size is one of the few educational interventions that there is ironclad proof will improve student achievement. It should be the last thing to cut.

  24. For the record, California has the highest student to teacher ratio in the nation already.

    California taxpayers pay less for schools than almost other states, and California dedicates less of its total budget to education than any other state.

    These are facts from the recent UCLA study. It's not that I don't think there's fat to trim, but focusing on how schools should cut, scrimp and suffer with even less assistance from public resources is the wrong discussion.

  25. FYI, now Garcia's saying 25:1, K-3:

    This is still appalling, antithetical to everything we know about children and learning, and will have miserable outcomes system-wide, but it's better than 30:1.

  26. As a previous commenter pointed out, 25 are still TOO MANY, and we should fight that, without now being "relieved" it isn't 30. 22 are almost too many. If they want to close the achievement gap, it doesn't help to push even more middle class families over to private school. And some of us can still afford it. I would much rather be taxed more though.

  27. "Trim the fat at the admin level and leave the schools alone!!"

    This is a fantasy. We're talking about a $1,600/student shortfall. Expenditure per student is about $9,000 currently. The idea that "waste, fraud and abuse" is going to make up the shortfall is a Reaganite pipe dream.

  28. one thing to note is the presentation says they are going to increase class size to 25 for 2 years. I think this is an outright lie. How will they get it back down again in two years and what about the teachers they will have laid off. We will be stuck with the larger class sizes permanently.

    SFUSD needs to be much more transparent with the cuts they are proposing and the central office cuts need to be detailed before they push something like this through.

  29. Our principal at Marshall said recently that the data does not indicate that class size increase = worse outcomes. I do not know to which data he refers.

    I do not understand how class sizes can increase at the same time Garcia plans not to close schools? Huh? Where are all these additional kids to come from?

  30. There are some badly-modeled studies that purport not to show any lasting gains from class-size reductions.

    Among other issues, some of these studies look at CSR without weighting the average class size before CSR. Prior to that, some districts had about 21 kids in a class, while others had 31. If you elide those differences, it skews your data.

    Other studies compare student achievement using different sets of standards - the 2001 content standards in California are far higher than the ones before.

    Some studies do show little or not terribly long lasting student growth from CSR. However, those studies can suggest why: once CSR went through, California needed more teachers than it had, and many of those were not credentialed. Research shows that experienced teachers with credentials have better student growth.

    However, SFUSD has very few teachers without credentials, so this situation doesn't really apply.

  31. Sadly, I think class size reduction is extremely beneficial, maybe even more beneficial, where public schools are least likely to have it: high school. It makes a huge difference for middle-of-the-pack kids when they are in seminar-size classes and can't hide. They have to prepare, they have to do their work, they have to participate. Class discussions are not left to the same three overachievers. Also, the work is (or should be) more intense for the teachers to grade and provide meaningful feedback, and the teachers are teaching several sections a day. If we want all our students to complete a college prep curriculum (has that goal gone out the window with the budget crisis?) and actually have it mean something for a lot of them and not just the three overachievers, I don't see how it can be done with huge classes.

  32. As a high school teacher, I have classes that are now between 32 and 36 students. When a class is 26 or less, I feel I can address the needs of all students and don't feel overwhelmed by grading or reviewing student assignments. However, once enrollment climbs over 26, I refer to the classroom as TRIAGE, help those first who need the most help, and subsequently get the most time. Students who learn independently can get themselves through class, which leaves the middle group who often are left under the radar. This is not done on purpose, it is merely the reality of the public high school classroom in my district. I almost want to tell some of my parents to march with their feet, take their students out and enroll them in one of the local charter schools. At least the class size will be better.

    Class size makes the difference, and administrators should look to trim their budgets before they make cuts in the classroom.

  33. I've posted this on other strings here before, but I think there are lots of parents who would give whatever money they have to a fund designed to protect against teacher layoffs and keep class sizes small. I know some may say that this is the state's problem -- but, come on, folks the state is not going to reform itself in the next six months! And it may be difficult to raise the money, but how we will know unless we try? I really think we'd be amazed at how many parents would be willing to put down a couple of thousand bucks to such a fund if it would mean that they didn't have to move their kids to private school and fork over $25,000 plus. And I'm not talking about doing something against SFUSD or the union. The money would go directly to SFUSD SOLELY to stop the teacher layoffs as much as possible. Come on, folks, let's try it!