Thursday, June 16, 2005

does size matter?

class size is now a political football in the NYC mayoral race, as this NY Sun article describes. but contrary to the experience of teachers, parents, and students, the bloomberg administration is arguing that reducing class size isn't all it's cracked up to be. this is a favorite argument among economists -- that when you reduce class size, the average quality of teachers goes down because you have to hire from deeper in the barrel:

"You can choose between the most sought-after master teacher in the school with 28 students, a competent but not inspiring teacher with 23 students, or a new teacher with 17 students in the class," [DOE deputy chancellor Carmen Farina] said. "I guarantee most parents would opt for no. 1."

but i wonder if anyone has done any research on correlations between class size and
retaining new teachers (something NYC in particular has problems with). first-year teachers frequently have problems with discipline and classroom management. it would make sense to me that while a small class size policy may reduce the overall quality of teachers in the short term, it would improve in the long term. consider this an RFP. any takers?


Mrs. Ris said...

I agree that class size does impact teacher satisfaction and therefore, should be a factor in teacher retention.... it's weird there hasn't been formal research done on this premise. But our society doesn't much care about teacher satisfaction anyway.

Enjoyed your blog!

Leo Casey said...

Some smart observations, Julie.

In education, it matters as much how you implement an idea or reform as the idea or the reform itself. This is as true for class size as anything. In California, little planning and foresight went into the implementation of statewide class size reduction, and as a result, several unintended consequences kept it from the full beneficial effect it should have had in urban school districts. Urban schools were more likely to lack the space to establish more classes, even with the money to hire more teachers. Moreover, since suburban schools had better pay and working conditions, they were able to use the class size reduction money to attract urban teachers, leaving the urban districts with the more inexperienced teachers. It matters how you do it.

Of course, a lot of that is not relevant to the CFE lawsuit, or to the proposed ballot initiative to lower class size in NYC, since these would lower class size in NYC, without a corresponding drop in the suburbs.

Carmen Farina's hypothetical is very hypothetical, because that is not the choice a NYC parent actually has. NYC has a retention crisis in teachers, with more than 1 in every 2 leaving by their fifth year of teaching. So far too many classes are being taught by inexperienced, novice teachers, right now. All other things being equal, the real choice for all too many parents is one between a large class with a novice teacher and a smaller class with a novice teacher.

I do not think that the literature on retention would identify class size as a major factor in teachers leaving, at least in comparison to low pay, inadequate support by administrators, no respect for their professional voice and input, and student violence and unruliness.

Joe Thomas said...

Folkbum is doing a great series on class size.

He points to community and teacher involvement being an important factor to consider.