September 19, 1997
Questions asked in this forum:
Do other influences have a greater impact on learning than class size? Are teachers being taught to present their lesson plans with ruthless efficiency? Where precisely does the size difference matter? Are there any good studies on small classes?
August 21, 1997:
Paul Solman talks with Education Secretary Richard Riley and school officials from around the country.
August 12, 1997:
Chicago Public Schools are looking into mandatory summer school to increase test scores.
February 11, 1997:
President Clinton announces plans to create national standards to measure the country's educational system.
January 16, 1997:
A report shows that despite a 15-year effort to improve public schools, performance still lags.
Browse the Online NewsHour's coverage of education.
A question from Tara Sarathy of New York City:
I work at a nonprofit that provides technology professional development to K-12 teachers. However, I wonder if all the emphasis placed on putting computers in classrooms is taking up precious class room space or if money that could be spent on reducing class size if instead used for more glamour purposes like technology.
How do computers in the classroom affect classroom crowding, if at all? Is the demand for technology and small class size at odds or complementary? How might technology be used to help alleviate high student-teacher ratios?
Michael Kirst, Stanford University professor and director of Policy Analysis for California Education responds:
In California there is a clear trade-off because many schools are overcrowded. Parents and teachers are willing to give up computers in order to provide space for more 20 to 1 classes. This trade off is less likely in declining enrollment states like Pennsylvania.
Sonia Hernandez, Deputy Superintendent for the Curriculum and Instructional Leadership Branch of California State's Department of Education responds:
Computers will never replace the classroom teacher. They are a new tool, a new form of technology that should be used to enhance instruction. By and large, most schools do not have enough computers a the school site or in individual classrooms to have a negative effect on class overcrowding.
The demands of technology and class size can be at odds or complementary. Both scenarios are possible. Ideally, the use of computers in classroom would give students other opportunities to apply skills and knowledge around the primary instruction given by teachers. When student use of computers is well planned, it can free teachers to work with individual students or small groups of students. On the other hand, the computer should not be used as a "baby-sitting" device; what students are expected to do at the computer should be a purposeful tutoring or practice activity.
As for how technology might be used to alleviate high student/teacher ratios: It depends on the subject or activity. If application of skills is the activity, computers could be useful. For example, the computer may be an ideal technology to assist large numbers of students who are working on improving their writing skills, giving the teacher more opportunity to work with individual students.