While warning readers to “beware of the easy school fix,” Washington Post writer Jay Mathews describes management professor Bill Ouchi’s research on the power of reducing Total Student Loads per teacher. When middle and high school teachers are responsible for fewer students, test scores go up, writes Ouchi, author of Making Schools Work, which called for giving more power to principals.
He says when middle or high school principals are given control of their schools’ budgets — a rare occurrence in big districts — they tend to make changes in staffing, curriculum and scheduling that sharply reduce TSL, the number of students each of their teachers is responsible for. Some urban districts have TSLs approaching 200 kids per teacher. But after principals get budgeting power, the load drops sharply, sometimes to as low as 80 kids per instructor. When that happens, the portion of students scoring “proficient” on state tests climbs.
A 1997 study found only 43 percent of school district employees were regularly engaged in classroom teaching, Ouchi writes in his new book, which will be out next year. (Mathews has an advance chapter.)
“When a district has too few classroom teachers,” Ouchi writes in his chapter, “student loads per teacher rise to the point where teachers can no longer know their students well enough to establish a bond of trust with them. Without this trust, a teacher can neither establish an orderly classroom nor push a student to do his or her best, and the teacher’s job often becomes frustrating and constantly stressful.”
After analyzing the effect of class size, teacher experience, teacher credentials, professional development, time devoted to math and reading instruction and other factors, Ouchi’s research team concluded that only TSL had a significant effect on student performance in all the districts studied.
Some middle schools and a few high schools combine English and history into “humanities,” so teachers have twice as much time with half as many students. It’s less common to combine math and science, though that’s sometimes done. It’s also possible to have teachers teach fewer classes and spend the extra time as counselors or administrators. Cutting class size is the simplest way to reduce teaching loads, but the most expensive.