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Reduction in the class size makes significant improvement in student learning outcomes especially benefiting students from low-income class people and minority group while at the same time the direct costs related to this reduction will be high.
Objective of this research paper
The purpose of this paper is to analyze the improvement in student learning due to reduction in class size in public and private schools and also the costs involved in reducing the class size. This paper will also enable readers to understand the benefits received by economically disadvantaged and minority students in smaller classes, analyze the programs conducted by different organizations and also touch upon views of parents, teachers and principals on smaller class size.
What are the benefits of reducing the class size and does it really improve the students learning outcomes? Most importantly why reduced class size is especially beneficial in the early grades? Whether the class size reduction is important or teacher's skills are important? How the learning environment makes difference in student learning outcomes?
Teaching younger children requires more efforts, concentration, attention and energy. This paper sights the issues related to the class size and its impacts on the students learning outcomes. My analysis and discussions gives the detailed explanation on smaller class sizes. If the class size is small, there will be opportunities for the teacher to spend more time for each individual child and able to focus on their strength and weaknesses. The teacher will be able to better interact and communicate with the children and may produce better children's outcome if the class size is small. More over, in smaller classes, it is possible to engage children in learning, making it harder for the student to escape from the teacher's notice and they will be more prepared for participating and answering the questions. On the other hand, questions are raised over the benefits and costs of reduction in class size. Some critics argue that the benefits of reduced class sizes are so high that we cannot afford not to take up this reduction. According to the research of Kruger, Dustman & et al (2003, "Class size, Economics, and Wages" Royal Economic Journal) , "every $1 spent reducing class size in early grades results in $2 in higher income (in present value) down the road.
Private vs Public schools
In 2002 a special report was produced by National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) which said from 1999 to 2000, there were approximately 27,000 private schools that accounted for 24 percent of the schools in the US. Also, they accounted for 12 percent of all full-time teachers. This means public schools after for more education to the students rather than private schools in the US .
The reputation plays very important role while considering private and public schools. For example, in Australia, there are many good public schools, but not every child can attend academically reputed public schools because children must go to the nearest public school in the suburbs they live in. Most of the parents would like to put their children in private schools because they have good academic reputation, when compared with public schools, but the prohibitive cost of tuition in private schools dissuades them.
In order to help enrolments in Private schools, Australian Governments over the years provided subsidies to private schools, which made reductions possible in tuition fees . This helped working class society also to enroll their children in the private schools. So, no longer private schools are considered only for the elite. The government grants were utilized by the private schools to reduce the tuition fees, to reduce the student to teacher ratio (ie smaller class), to increase remuneration of teachers, and to cover losses on contributed services.
In most of the private schools the class size is small. But, do they take up social responsibility? Public schools have responsibility to teach all students, they have special program for children with special needs (whether it is academically or mentally). Private schools may have special programs for gifted student's but not for children with special needs.
Special education laws make it mandatory for public schools to educate and meet the special needs of these children. Most of the public schools have special programs and teachers for these students. All the public schools have specialized schools to support children with multiple special needs.
Private schools don't have any such obligations. Most of the private schools do not have special education programs or teachers to teach these children. This makes my argument stronger in saying that attention needs to be focused on reduction in class size in public schools to cater for the special needs children, so that they are also having equal opportunity to get education.
Cost is another important factor that impacts the choice of private versus public school, for parents. The private schools charge high tuition fee where as public schools offer free of charge tuition. However, there is no guarantee for the students who are in private schools to achieve better results when compared with private schools.
School size and class size
If the school size is very big with many students, it will be very difficult to administer. It becomes burdensome for the teachers if there are more children in the class. If there are more students in the class it becomes difficult for teacher to concentrate on individual child. My belief is if the class size is small the teacher can pay more attention on each student. Another factor is safety and school environment. In my opinion if there are more children in class, they will be noisier which may lead to behavioral problems.
Most of the parents are concerned with class size because they think that there won't be much attention towards their children. This is also one of the main reasons why parents consider private school as the private schools generally offer smaller class size. The main question is how many children can the classroom teacher be responsible for? What is the correct over all students to teacher ratio?
Based on a study conducted by Educational Priorities Panel (EPP) in New York in the first year of the class room reduction, Principals' and teachers agreed the introduction of smaller classes has given positive results. They noticed the following changes after introducing the smaller classes:
The students were able to learn very fast, the smaller classes made teachers to pay more attention towards each student, and utilize small group instruction more effectively, lot of improvement in language and communication skills of students, the number of behavioural problems were reduced and one principal reported that 60% of suspensions are down when compared to previous year because of class size reduction program
Tennessee Project STAR Experiment
Project STAR (Student/Teacher Achievement Ratio) in Tennessee provided evidence on the effect of class size on learning outcomes of children.
Project STAR was an experiment where students were assigned to a small class (13-17 students), a regular class (22-25 students) or a regular-size class with a full-time teacher's aide. Teachers were also assigned to different class types randomly. This experiment took place in 79 Tennessee public schools for students in kindergarten through third grade from 1985-89. 11,600 students and 1,330 teachers took part in the experiment. The STAR project expenses were funded by the Tennessee State Legislature at a total cost of approximately $12 million (Word et al., 1990, Mosteller, 1995)
As one can see, from the graph above, which was based on STAR project, students in smaller classes made significant gains on all measures. The test scores were higher; students achieved better grades, there were improved attendance and were less likely to be held back.
Princeton University economist Dr. Alan B. Krueger researched the test data of the Project STAR database. Kruger said, when children attend small classes it appears to have cut the black-white gap and the probability of taking a college-entrance exam is increased by more than half. Those students who attended small classes are more likely to pursue college. STAR students - black students in that group- who attended small classes would also likely to take college entrance tests.
From the above canalizations and the reviews of major studies I believe that there is a significant improvement in the student outcomes because teacher can devote more time in improving the student learning outcomes and also it will continue through higher classes.
NAPLAN results and class size improvements for Indigenous students
Given below is the one of the NAPLAN  results for the year 2008 in Australia.
From the statistics shown, the percentage of indigenous students estimated to be at or above the national minimum standard is than non-Indigenous students in all states in Australia. Across Australia, a smaller proportion of Indigenous students are likely to be achieving at or above the national minimum standard compared to non-Indigenous students. For Numeracy and Grammar and Punctuation there is a difference of 22 to 31 percentage points, respectively. The mean score for Indigenous students is very much lower than that of non-Indigenous students. Similar is the scores in reading and writing for indigenous children compared to non-indigenous children
Looking at these results for the minority, indigenous students; it would be beneficial as shown by the STAR project experiment, to have smaller class rooms. The STAR project also showed that gains were largest for minority, low-income and inner-city students. By 3rd grade, gap in achievement between minority and other students narrowed by 38%. They continued to perform well theought their school years. Dropout rates were cut by more than 50% for low-income students in smaller classes for 4 years.
The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Government took initiatives to reduce class size in similar lines with the STAR Project . The ACT public schools planned to reduce class sizes in the first three years of schooling. The actual average size of the new classes was reduced by one-third, which was slightly higher than the STAR Project (21 when compared with 16 in the STAR).
Paying for Smaller Classes
There are different schools of thought on the costs of reduction of class room size. Some argue that reduction does not come cheap. By reducing class size, there is increase in number of class rooms, infrastructure costs will go high and also there is a need to hire more teachers to cater for the increased number of classes. This could cost the country billions of dollars. Some others like the Burke country school, in North Carolina in the US, experimented by using the spare times of class teachers effectively. Without increasing the class size they were able to manage within the same budget of cost per child. Some argue that the classrooms in certain countries have large number of students and still achieving the results.
According to Eric Hanushek, it is the question of providing qualified teachers rather than reducing the class size. He argues that the reduction in class size should be considered only where it is giving a considerable advantage. I tend to agree with this argument. However, even highly qualified teachers would get stressed out handling a larger class. They will be able to handle better a smaller class and impart their knowledge with individual attention.
If we look at the costs involved in the reduction of class size there is a possibility that one may end up in a very high number of classrooms. When the class size is reduced from 20 to 15 in a 300 student school, the increase of 5 classrooms and 5 additional teachers will certainly be very expensive. This would deter school managements from adopting smaller class rooms. However, it seems likely that other savings produced indirectly offset some of the added staffing costs from reducing class size. For example, if smaller classes are more manageable and make teaching more rewarding, then teachers should find smaller classes more attractive. I believe this could be to some extent true as teachers have to be properly trained to teach and they should be given on the job training to improve their skills and update knowledge. This would allow them to cope with any stressful situations.
Let us look at the indirect costs. Smaller the classes, less stressful would be the teachers. They would be very happy to teach their smaller class. This means there would be less teacher turnover and schools can save on hiring and training charges. Teachers may not need any supervisors, which is again a cost saving.
Let us look at the flip side of it, like lower enrolments. According to Candice Shih , looking at drop in the enrolments, school managements decided to have combination classes. It is not possible to have fixed enrolments for each class, as the schools need to cater for the suburbs they represent. Sometimes the enrolments may be high or low. When low, it's expensive to hire two full-time teachers to teach one class of 13 fifth graders and one class of 11 sixth graders. Instead of moving students from school to school to fill up a class, schools propose combination class at one site. This helps student-to-teacher ratios stay high (within limits) and costs stay down.
As discussed above there are significant improvements in the learning outcomes of students when the classroom size is small. The STAR project experiment shows, how the minority students benefits in a reduced class scenario. It should be particularly advantageous for students from lower socio-economic, indigenous and other than English speaking backgrounds. Also looking at the NAPLAN results I believe Australia should adopt small size class policy. The evidence from thorough research studies in ACT seems to suggest that improvements in student outcomes are possible from the reduction of class sizes from an average of 30 to 21. Reduction in class sizes increase the teacher's attention towards special needs students in Public schools.
It must be emphasized that teacher quality is more critical to better student outcomes. The large reductions in classes for Years K-2 should be combined with more widespread use of, peer tutoring, co-operative learning, and learner-centered teaching methods. Training and staff development programs are essential to change behavior of teachers to fully realize the potential of small classes.