Making the most of the best teachers

If effective teachers taught more students — and weaker teachers had smaller classes — everyone would learn more, according to Right-Sizing the Classroom. Michael Hansen, senior researcher at the American Institutes for Research, analyzed North Carolina data.

At the eighth-grade level, assigning up to 12 more students than average to effective teachers can produce gains equivalent to adding two-and-a-half extra weeks of school, Hansen concluded. Three-quarters of that gain can be realized by moving six students. There are smaller gains at the fifth-grade level.

The benefits of assigning more students to the best teachers are the equivalent of firing the worst 5 percent of teachers, Hansen concluded. Unequal class size would be politically difficult, even with bonuses, but it’s easier than firing the incompetent.

In a survey last year, 73 percent of parents preferred a class of 27 students — “taught by one of the district’s best performing teachers” — over a class of 22 students “taught by a randomly chosen teacher.”

In a 2006 study, 83 percent of  Washington state teachers said they’d prefer an extra $5,000 in pay to having two fewer students in their classes. (Two is not a very large number.)

“Right-sizing” also is a way to sidestep merit pay while rewarding good teachers, the study observes. Bonuses would be “extra pay for extra work.”

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  1. Or, they could consider that who is the “best” might shift somewhat from year to year. Here’s some thoughts:

    1) Limit the size of new teachers’ classes, particularly if they are teaching the “challenging” children. In fact, they could probably increase retention by NOT assigning the noobs any lunch or extra duty the first year.
    2) Consider limiting class size for teachers just back from maternity leave, those recovering from surgery or battling cancer (or with spouses who are temporarily health-challenged), and those within 3 years of retirement. They’re already under enough stress.
    3) Limit class sizes if there are large percentages of Spec Ed/LD/ADD, etc. kids in that class. Even with an aide or co-teacher, that class will require a LOT more work.
    4) If a teacher on limited class size can’t get it together in a few years to take on his/her share of the load, then start building a case for removal. As time goes on, that teacher should, with help, develop strengths/skills.

    BTW, the way to get a teacher to improve performance is NOT to load on about 5-10 hours extra of meetings, paperwork, and other “help”. Just provide SOME coaching, don’t pile on mandatory assignments (like forcing them to “reflect” on every lesson with a very structured, lengthy report – come on, that takes more time than that teacher likely has – better to have them take a few notes, touch base in a conversation with their mentor teacher, and let them TEACH).

  2. Gee, first it was class size doesn’t affect student learning-when we were reducing the number of students in a class. Now all of the sudden, it is ‘cheaper’ to increase the number of students in a class. Wow! What an idea! Student achievement increases when we cram more kids into a class! Wow! Education on the cheap.
    Are we going to increase the number of microscopes in the laboratory, size of the room, equipment in the carpentry course, and so forth also? Are we going to hire someone to help this overworked teacher grade all those extra papers in English comp?

    • Well California certainly proved that if you don’t give a damn whether the teachers know what they’re doing even a small class is no guarantee of a good education. So education “on the expensive” doesn’t appear to be quite the panacea the teacher’s unions and folks who reflexively defend the current system like to claim it is.

      Hey! Maybe there are differences among teachers? Maybe some teachers are good and some are lousy and it really is worth the effort to distinguish between the two.

  3. So, what does giving less students to weaker teachers do for that teacher? If they don’t know what and how to teach, removing a few students isn’t going to improve their nonexistant skills.

    And thanks to full inclusion, we all know it doesn’t matter how many students are in the class. One disruptor is all it takes to ruin the year whether its a class of 2 or 200.

  4. and here I was feeling lucky that I am only averaging 33 students per class this year…..

  5. Fire the truly incompetent.

    I’m not feeling a great deal of trust in a system which can’t fire the incompetent. It would also be really interesting to see a school try this system. You could lay bets as to in which classrooms all the PTA powers, school board members’ children, and teacher’s children would end up, and in which classroom the powerless, new-to-the-system, and uninvolved parents’ children end up.

    I mean, they wouldn’t even have to guess which teacher was the strong teacher. Large classroom = strong teacher. Small classroom = teacher they should fire, but choose to keep to teach YOUR child.

    Oh yeah, that’ll work. Sure.

  6. Not to mention, wouldn’t continually having an overfilled classroom contribute to burnout? I realize that my experience (as a college prof) may be different from school teachers, but between 5% and 10% of any class I get is going to be people with just massive problems – either bad luck or bad life choices – and there’s fallout from that that affects me.

    I can handle it in three classes of forty people; that’s maybe a dozen people with big issues. If I had three classes of 400 (and no TAs…I don’t have them now), I’d be doing nothing but dealing with students’ problems.

  7. I wouldn’t be surprised if a significant number of teachers would accept somewhat larger classes IF disruptors (of whatever kind, including with an IEP) were removed (as they should be) the kids were academically homogeneous. The most advanced and motivated kids could have the largest classes and the struggling-but-working could have smaller ones. My oldest kids’ AP classes usually had 36 kids – maybe a few more except in the sciences (only 18 lab stations and classroom size) but all the kids had done well in the honors prerequisites so it was a very homogeneous and motivated group. Heterogeneous classes, even without spec ed kids, are much more demanding for the teachers, even if disruptors are disallowed.

  8. Will not work. This is publicly showing each teacher’s performance review. Virtually no organizations do this , in part because public reviews are no longer honest (not that teacher reviews are honest now)
    Small classes for first year teachers and English teachers who actually read and comment on students’ writing and large classes for advanced and well behaved students all seem like great ideas.

    • Half of my student teaching assignment was two periods of ninth graders who had failed either math or science in 8th grade, and many if not most had failed both. There was literally no curriculum and no textbook. It was a remedial “study skills” class. There was 40 kids in one class and 42 in the other. (It was an “elective”, so class size limits didn’t count)