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? How might technology be used to help alleviate high student-teacher ratios? 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 Dick Reed of Alexandria, VA:
To what extent is the subject of class size being used by teachers as an excuse for an inability to handle disruptive students? Would specific training in handling the sorts of misplaced anger that such students evince provide more real benefit than reducing class size from ... say 28 to 20? (Additional questions that may be answered elsewhere: Where precisely does the size difference matter, below 17 to 1, or at a higher level? At all grade levels?)
Michael Kirst, Stanford University professor and director of Policy Analysis for California Education responds:
One of the key policy questions is how low do we have to reduce class size in order to impact student learning. An Arizona State research synthesis implied 15 to 1, and the big Tennessee experiment was 15 to 1. But California is only reducing to 20 to 1. California started at 30 to 1, so will this be as effective as Tennessee reduction from 25 to 15? We do NOT have the research to answer these questions.
Regarding disruptive students, I know of no studies on this. Some teachers try to get disruptive students labelled as special ed students, so they can get them out of class.
Sonia Hernandez, Deputy Superintendent for the Curriculum and Instructional Leadership Branch of California State's Department of Education responds:
Research of a few years ago (done by the U.S. Department of Education under William Bennett) shows that optimum class size would be 15 students to one teacher. That's assuming that instructional strategies do not change dramatically. If substantive changes are made in the kinds of strategies used by teachers, anything from 22 students on down has a big impact on student performance. Small class size makes the greatest difference at elementary and middle school levels. It has not yet been shown to be a significant factor at the high school level, except in the case of students learning English composition, for example.
With regard to disruptive students: The reality is that teachers who are incapable of handling disruptive students would have a problem whether the class size were large or small. Except in cases of dealing with extreme violence, teachers need to have the skills necessary to handle disruptive students.
In addition, school principals, teachers, and parents often join together to design appropriate systems for their schools as a response to dealing with students who lack the necessary skills to behave properly in a classroom setting.
Class Size Reduction is a strategy to assist instruction. Intervention with disruptive students is more an issues of classroom management than direct instruction.