Americans want small classes, more tech

Smaller classes and more technology  would help schools the most, say adults surveyed for School Choice Signals, a new Friedman Foundation report. Merit pay and longer school days would be the least effective of seven reforms, the survey takers said.

About Joanne


  1. Richard Aubrey says:

    Learned a lot of econ in a classroom of a couple of hundred. Handsome Al Mandelstam was so good that a friend of mine, who was taking a class in the room the next period, showed up early for the education.
    Like to know how much of what surveyed adults want is a function of what they’ve been told, what they’ve experienced, and what they think would be most comfortable.
    Tech, hands-on stuff requires small classes, I suppose. The instructor needs to be moving around making sure things are going well or at least not blowing up.

  2. People know that smaller classes mean more individualized attention, and that more individualized attention means less discipline problems.

    Technology has improved every other facet of our lives, so why shouldn’t it improve education?

    • Because politics stands in the way of technology improving education whereas politics doesn’t stand in the way of technology improving every other facet of our lives.

    • Richard Aubrey says:

      Technology and smaller class size are separate issues unless the former is put at the service of the latter.
      I can see various problems. See LAUSD’s experience with technology.
      How much time is spent keeping the kids from p0rn sites or trying to find out what the enemy is up to by reading Joanne Jacobs? Calling tech support because the damn’ thing murphied again?
      My favorite classes in college were small classes of fifteen/twenty-five in subjects that interested me because we had what amounted to an informed discussion led by and improved by the instructor, with the rest of us reasonably current in the material. I don’t know if I learned a bunch–certainly possible–but I certainly enjoyed it.
      Point is, there are reasons for small classes which might not actually increase effectiveness–some will–and the connection with technology has to be made clear and proof against fools.

  3. My older kids’ HS had 36 in most of heir (honors-prereq) AP courses (Spanish excepted because fewer kids wanted) and the courses were all great. I’d much rather have a homogeneous class of that size than a heterogeneous class of less than half that size and I doubt that I’m the only one – parent or teacher.

  4. I get nervous when people talk too enthusiastically about technology in education. I don’t think technology is going to solve any of our education problems. If a school’s kids can’t read, or are discipline problems, or whatever, introducing computers and other tech isn’t going to help.

    Yes, kids need to learn how to use computers and schools should provide an opportunity to do this. However computers are a tool. like a blackboard (a very fancy, temperamental blackboard), not a teaching method.

  5. I also think that parents have been convinced – by the education establishment – that small classes are more effective, but I don’t think the research backs up the contention. The establishment has been pushing the idea for decades; smaller classes = more teaching jobs. IIRC, CA’s mandated smaller classes meant more marginal-ability teachers. The fact that many private schools have smaller classes may be more indicative of the attendance costs than of the school’s desire for small classes.

    • One should also separate the issue of class size from that of student load per teacher.

      All other things being equal, a teacher with 150 essays to grade will likely provide more rushed and superficial commentary than a teacher with 50.

      Last year I had 270 students; grading homework took up my evenings, weekends, and vacations. This year I have 170 students; grading homework still takes up a great deal of my evenings, weekends, and vacations, but not quite as much, and I can read my students’ work more carefully on a more consistent basis. (Even so, people gasp when I tell them how many students I have.)

      As for class size itself, it really depends on the type of course, the makeup of the class, and the space in the room. Some of my sections have 34 students. One of these sections is exceptionally cohesive; in that case, I find no disadvantage in the class size itself. Another section is crammed into a small room–and it’s a highly heterogeneous group. In the latter case it would be easier to have a smaller class or larger space.

      There are splendid lecture classes, and tiny classes that lack momentum. The optimal class size is not fixed. In the best of circumstances, the class size is appropriate to the course; the class is relatively homogeneous; the course has substance; the teachers’ loads are within reason; and the classroom has adequate space and supplies.

      • “the class is relatively homogeneous”

        I agree strongly with this. Most teachers do. Yet educational “professionals” and adminstrators not only rail against this, in most places it is actually prohibited by school board policy or law.

        We are told that differentiation is the key, and that we should be addressing the individual needs of our 170 students in diverse classrooms full of mainstreamed special education students.

    • Crimson Wife says:

      Many private schools have far more applicants than seats available. They could easily fill larger classes if they chose to do so. The fact that class sizes are limited to 16 or 18 kids vs. the 32 in the public schools is a major selling point.

  6. As far as I can tell, survey respondents were not offered the choice of “tracking” or “more homogeneous classes.” Lacking that option, many chose the options which might give children more individual attention–smaller class sizes and more technology.

    Classroom technology seems to often be sold as a method to allow students to do individual work at their own pace; thus, parents may think it could be a way to escape the disadvantages of very heterogeneous classrooms.

    It’s impossible to choose an option not offered–as the foundation which sponsored the study is in favor of school choice, it is a good idea to think about what options were NOT offered to survey respondents.

  7. Roger Sweeny says:

    It would be interesting to see the results if one of the options was, “more individual tracking.”

  8. Richard Aubrey says:

    Handsome Al knew at what time the students were giving up and not taking notes. Out would come the yo-yo.
    I knew him 62-63 when he was faculty sponsor for the lax club.
    Distance may be smoothing the rough edges, but it seems to me he was a consummate artist at the teaching of large numbers in a lecture setting. Just terrific.
    Never had Larue.