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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