Is It Better to Have a Great Teacher or a Small Class? – Emily Richmond – The Atlantic

Mari Darr-Welch/AP Photo

When it comes to student success, “smaller is better” has been the conventional wisdom on class size, despite a less-than-persuasive body of research. But what if that concept were turned on its head, with more students per classroom – provided they’re being taught by the most effective teachers?

That’s the question a new study out today from the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute set out to answer, using data on teachers and students in North Carolina in grades 4 through 8 over four academic years. While the results are based on a theoretical simulation rather than actually reconfiguring classroom assignments in order to measure the academic outcomes, the findings are worth considering.


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5 Responses to Is It Better to Have a Great Teacher or a Small Class? – Emily Richmond – The Atlantic

  1. Bill says:

    And if I ever get to your neck of the woods, we’ll have that pint.

  2. Bill says:

    OK Al, you’ve pushed my buttons twice in a row. Stop… I need to get some work done.

    Re: “But does it mean that we should hang onto persistently ineffective teachers? Given the cost of keeping them on the payroll, probably not. At some point, giving ineffective teachers the luxury of small classes becomes an unsustainable financial burden.”

    There is a GIGANTIC flaw in this paper. They make the assumption that school districts can just magically replace “less capable” teachers in the course of solving problems based on their findings. When school districts consistently suppress pay for teachers, free market principals dictate who your pool of teacher candidates will be. In states (US) where teacher pay is more in keeping with the demands of the profession – thinking northeastern states – there is intense competition for those jobs, and the candidate pool is deeper and richer. The teacher corps there is quite capable and amenable to the robust professional development opportunities provided there. Their testing numbers reflect that reality as does their rigorous basic teacher competency testing.

    In states such as my own (California) where salaries have been artificially suppressed for decades, little state-supported PD occurs and average teaching careers much shorter, the teacher pool is younger, less experienced, and professional ability much more variable. This is particularly pronounced in poor, urban schools. Basic teacher competency testing in CA is an insult, yet many teachers here require several attempts at it to pass.

    System-wide, there simply aren’t a sufficient number of bodies to fill the positions required to educate the number of kids in the system, much less a sufficient number of highly-qualified, effective, creative, caring professionals who know how to get results with students. Yes, it’s a professional development problem, but at root it is a a very simple, fundamental issue of economics, a reality the 1% will always deny. Former CA governor Pete Wilson once said “It’s not a question of money” to justify punitive and unworkable credentialing regulations for teachers. After he left office and became mayor of San Diego, he said, “We’re starving the schools for money.” Yes, it is all about money, and until we change our value system, no empty-headed conservative study is going to change a thing.

    • Al Smith says:

      Ok. 🙂 Ill try to chill out! I go in waves of pushing my editorial triggers. My honest muses are better rendered over a pint. I too often REACT to various commentary or press announcements that affect public policy. . I guess at heart I’m a liberal(small L) and since that term has been highjacked since Reagan, I increasingly sound like an pinko revolutionary nut job but I know my centrist democratic logic is mostly correct and sensible practice. I’ll try hard to take leave and give you a rest. 😉 thx for your interest. Good luck.

    • Bill says:

      Don’t get me wrong. The article was excellent provocation, and I appreciate you posting it. Keep your enemies closer, you know.

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