Saturday, October 1, 2016

Is Class Size Crucial to School Improvement

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The quality of American schooling has been a subject of discussion for decades now. One of the hotly debatable issues is the impact of class size on performance of pupils or overall school improvement. While proponents argue that smaller class size is an important ingredient towards improving the performance of learners owing to longer teacher-pupil interaction time, there are those who hold a contrary opinion noting that other imperative factors such as race and ethnicity, the education level of parents as well as socio-economic status practically influence school and individual chid performance. The analysis of both sides of the debate also reveals that reducing class size can yield positive result towards school improvement on condition that the right procedures are followed to the latter. Finally, it is evident that class size is integral in school improvement in spite of the fact that it is integral to consider both contrasting views in establishing whether class size per se is a fundamental factor in learning process and overall school improvement. 

            The need to reduce class size for effective teacher delivery is not a recent development. Several learning models including the British one encompassing the learning experience of pupils in large and small classes have been embraced in the past. For instance, the consolidation of rural as well as town schools that were still small in size was a broad attempt to investigate whether class size would translate into better academic performance (Molnar, 2002). This trend was aimed at setting up large schools since it was believed that large schools would attract more effective and efficient teachers alongside offering myriad of opportunities for learners. Nonetheless, such attempts to create large classes have received a backlash and there is even growing campaigns by the supporters of small class for the federal government to allocate more funds targeting the reduction of larger classes to small ones. It is also vital to note that internal reorganisations have been instrumental in reducing school sizes, not government funding.
            To begin with, the standards movement has led to reawakening of the debate on the need to reduce class size. The academic standards in most United States schools is closely monitored not just by school administrators, there are also other quality standards bodies in most states
(Purinton, 2011). According to the movement on standards, the schooling place has been noted as one area where inequity is highly likely to thrive. When standardised assessments are given to students in both smaller and larger school size, the former is found to perform better than the latter. Worse still, schools with larger student populations are also found to be endowed with less efficient teachers. If such empirical evidence is anything to by, then it implies that school size is paramount in the determination of pupil performance at any given time. Nonetheless, it should also be in order to argue that there ought to be other factors in place worth considering when deliberating on school improvement issue. 

            Students’ learning may not improved with the presence of standards alone especially is they are being poorly served by a crop of teachers who are deemed to be inexperienced. Moreover, empirical evidence suggests that learning opportunities for students can be improved in the best way with small class sizes.   
            In yet another research study, it has been proved beyond any reasonable doubt that students from all walks of life can learn given the right support and necessary opportunities. Educators have unanimously agreed with this idea arguing that disparities in academic performance are a direct function of the learning environment, largely driven by school size. In some cases, teachers in schools with large populations have a perception that so long as three quarters of students in a class understand lesson concepts, while the remaining one quarter are average, then the lesson objectives will have been  achieved.  This may not be the case as per the requirements of an ideal learning environment. An effective and sound learning process should not leave any pupil behind bearing in mind that all have equal opportunities to excel. It is upon school administrators to devise ways and means of resuscitating the performance of poor students
(Kaplan & Owings, 2002). Those who propose reduced class size reiterate that smaller student population will enable respective teachers to concentrate on weaker students since time to do so will be sufficient. In addition, meaningful discussions between teachers and students can only be actualised when both the school and class size is at irreducible minimum. 

            Having noted the impact of school size on academic performance, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation embarked on a relentless attempt to fund class size reduction. Over 250 US dollars in terms of funding has been dedicated towards this endeavour with the aim of scaling down student population in high schools. Sincerely speaking, such a staggering sum could not have been allocated to class size reduction if the effect on education standards was negligible.
            On the same note, pieces of legislations have been endorsed by lawmakers in some states in a bid to thin down school sizes for effective delivery by teachers (
Noll, 2010). These legislators believe that a lower teacher-student ratio will create a healthy ground for school improvement since instruction time will be increased significantly. Pupils tend to absorb and comprehend more when the contact time with teachers is relatively higher.
            Another argument put forward by proponents of reduced class size is that pupils who are in a larger classroom environment with a higher student population often find themselves lost among the crowed. Equally, it is also practically cumbersome for a teacher handling a bigger number of pupils to fully comprehend the learning needs of each student. This may occur even in a situation whereby parental involvement towards the academic success of a child is optimum. In addition, larger classrooms act as hiding places for learners who are well convinced that the vigilant eye of the teacher will not catch up with them. As a result, spill over effects of handling big class sizes such as growing cases of indiscipline will be inevitable
(Ornstein & Hunkins, 2008). At this juncture, its is crucial to note that once a larger school population graduates into discipline problems, then academic performance  will grossly be affected since performance and discipline are two intertwine factors that cannot be separated when addressing school improvement strategies.
            Additionally, there is consensus among educators and policy analysts that individual needs of pupils in a classroom differ markedly. Even in a case when a repertoire of delivering instructions in the best way possible has to be devised, the school size is still an issue of concern. Individualisation of students by teachers is a classroom practice that can only be achieved when there is a reduced class size. Teachers may not be a vantage position to know all their pupils in a situation whereby both the class and school size is too large to handle effectively
(Kaplan & Owings, 2002). Furthermore, administrators will also find themselves in tight fix when they have to share a common agenda in a large school population. It is crucial to emphasises that the overall school improvement goes beyond classroom size, it is also dependant on the wider school community which has to be impacted by the day-to-day decisions made by administrators.
            As mentioned earlier, there are other imperative factors that do affect school improvement and performance over and above class size. However, these may be considered as subsidiary or auxiliary factors that cannot override the impact of pupil population in any school population.  As Kirk A. Johnson observes in the article The Downside to Small Class Policies (
Noll, 2010), positive academic outcomes is not reliant on small class sizes. Although he tends to fully refute attempts by the federal government to fund class size reduction, empirical research study on this subject matter is necessary in order to determine the tangible contributions of small class size in school improvement. A total of 1.3 billion US dollars was set aside by the U.S Congress in year 2000 to cater for smaller or reduced class size. Similarly, a large sum of money was channelled towards reduced class size program even when Bill Clinton was still in office. This led to heavy spending on education sector whereby more teachers were hired to cater for small classes. Both the public and elementary schools were duly affected by this initiative. As the government noted later, the initiative significantly reduced the student-teacher ratio.
            Perhaps, the use of the Californian experience lone as an example may be quite inadequate and misleading as well. The small class size program was fully entrenched into Californian laws by 1995. It targeted pupils right from early grades so that their academic improvement could be noted as they progress to higher grades. As anticipated, the reduced class size approach in California was widely supported by most education stakeholders including parents, teachers and community-based organisations. Nevertheless, the program was implemented wholesome and the demand for teachers became acute. There were insufficient qualified teachers to handle the multiple divided small classes since all the elementary schools were thrashed into dire need for surplus and more experienced teachers. Unfortunately, the California state was not fully prepared for this aftermath.   
            The analysis that was done alter by RAND researchers as well as the American Institute for Research on the effectiveness of Californian class reduction program found out that most of the K-3 classes that were not affected by the initiative were mainly from poor districts with low income earners (
Noll, 2010). Besides, it was also evident that there was marked decline in the teacher qualifications during the time period when te program was being implemented. The research study emphasized that all the grade levels were notable affected among all the schools at elementary level. The poor schools went on normally and uninterrupted in spite of the few teachers but who had the best credentials in terms of teaching experience and education background. Although these research results were presumable taken as irrefutable facts, it is pertinent to put into consideration some of the underlying issue that may have been instrumental in derailing the reduced class size program in California.
            First, it was inescapable to hire new and inexperienced teachers at the wake of the new program since those who were already in employment were not adequate to meet the demand of the moment. Thus, it was inevitable for elementary schools to not only go through worst academic times, but also decline in school improvement.
            Second, California department of education failed to plan in advance in terms of teacher demand with the adoption and implementation of reduced class size. Proper measure needed to have been put in place prior to the official launch. These are some of the weaknesses likely to be encountered when reducing class size and unless the right measures are instituted, the program may appear as a white elephant project.      The debate on reduced class size alongside government initiative in funding the program may not auger quite well if positive outcomes will have to be realised. Funding is necessary if and if precautionary measures are put in parallel with program implementation. There is a whole mix of latent and visible factors that, if not addressed well, may lead to a skewed interpretation that reduced class size is an insignificant factor as far as school improvement and individual student performance is concerned. For instance, a research study conducted by Centre for Data Analysis way back in 1998 in a bid to investigate whether student performance could be affected by class size found out other intrinsic factors that would equally impact academic improvement
(Ornstein & Hunkins, 2008). For example, the study revealed that the learning process is greatly enhanced when both quality and quantity time is sent between a teacher and student. However, the study was also categorical that race and ethnicity, gender, socio-economic background of a learner, parents’ level of education as well as availability of learning materials were integral in both pupil and net school improvement. 

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