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Larger Class Sizes for Effective Teachers?


If you were a confident, highly effective educator, would you agree to take on a class size of 25 rather than 20, if you got a significant pay boost? How about 30 students? 35?

That's basically the idea behind a new white paper released by the Phoenix, Ariz.-based Goldwater Institute, a conservative-leaning think tank. (The paper doesn't appear to be on the Web site just yet, but it should be soon.)

Some of the ideas it raises you've probably heard before: Using "value-added" test-score growth as the basis of a merit-based pay system for teachers, with both schoolwide and individual growth targets. But the paper also raises this intriguing idea: Once you have a reliable system for identifying the most effective teachers, why not give more kids access to those teachers?

Using per-pupil funding for charter schools in Arizona, the paper suggests that a highly effective teacher would receive two-thirds of a student's per-pupil allocation in his or her salary, or about $5,200, for each additional student she takes on. (The remaining third would go to the school.) Combined with a merit-pay scheme, this system could net our best educators salaries of upwards of $100,000 a year, and allow more U.S. students to be taught by the best teachers out there, the paper suggests.

Sound far-fetched? Well, independent of the report, I was on the phone last week with a source who was telling me about teacher contracts that include language on class size and that require teachers who end up with larger class sizes to receive additional compensation. In practice, the source told me, a principal will ask some of the good teachers before the beginning of the school year if they'd be OK with taking on some additional students and receiving the pay bonuses. It's one way, the source suggested, a district could save money in tough times, rather than hiring a new teacher.

Both of the papers' ideas are likely to be controversial, especially with the national teachers' unions. The unions don't like the idea of performance-based pay based on these value-added gains, and are also proponents of class-size reduction. (See here and here for background.)

But on the other hand, it seems like this could offer some relief to the great class-size reduction debate that continually seems to plague K-12 education. This debate centers on whether it's better to have smaller classes, which has generally been the U.S.'s main teacher-quality solution, or to have fewer, more highly trained and effective teachers.

Aside from the obvious political challenges, the paper also outlines a couple of cultural challenges to raising class sizes. In a few focus groups conducted by the institute, researchers found that parents really seem wedded to smaller classes, even after they've been apprised of the research that shows that teacher effectiveness in general trumps class size. In other words, there is a strong sociological element going on here that will make pushing this idea forward a lot tougher.


Having taught in more than one school district in more than one state, good teachers are the ones who have gotten good students. New teachers and teachers not so well liked get problem students. Problem students (attitude or inability) become discipline problems, and a teacher can spend more time disciplining than teaching. Everyone loses. We need to get the problem students out of the classes so that teachers can teach. Problem students need to have a different education. Our system is not working for them.

You have to be kidding..."good teachers are the ones that get the good students"! I don't know what schools you have been in, but it is my experience (38 years worth) that the good teachers get more than their fair share of difficult students. Perhaps you have seen that there are less discipline issues and higher achievement in the classrooms of good teachers no matter what kind of students that they get.


Mr. Sawchuck-

Thanks for posting. I put up a post at Jay Greene's blog discussing the teacher quality/class size issue further:


When I taught at a junior high in Omaha a lot of years ago, I normally had more than 30 students in my classes. All of them could read and write reasonably well, which meant that I could teach them geography pretty well. English classes were a different story. If a teacher is doing a good job of teaching writing, he/she needs time to deal with all of the student products that need to be evaluated. That teacher could have the larger classes, but would need more planning time for the evaluations and adjusting instruction based on such.

However, if you have students who are reading and writing below grade level, I don't know that larger is better even at the secondary level. If teachers do have larger classes, is there a way we could support students who do read and write below grade level (in class facilitators and Tier 2 or 3 interventions) so that they can take advantage of the rich language experienced in a general education classroom with their peers?

I agree with kfielding. I've worked in different states and districts and have seen first-hand how teachers who have been in the system the longest have top priority on scheduling and picking the students they want in their classes. These teachers are close-knit with those in charge of scheduling; they study student files and cumulative folders and "choose" the students they want based on such criteria as: whether students are from two-parent families, their previous years' report card grades, standardized test scores, behavior, absenteeism, whether they have been retained/repeated a grade or are over-aged. These "seasoned teachers" who should be able to handle the most difficult students, take the best and brightest and leave the behavior problems for the "new" and unseasoned teachers--leaving them to deal with large numbers of problem students. To add insult to injury, they offer no support and then have the NERVE to wonder why new teachers leave the profession. This may not be happening in all districts and states, but it is certainly happening in the ones I've worked in! This is why merit pay and some other "innovative" ideas will not work--nepotism, and cronyism!

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