In Deficits, Wishful Thinking on Class Size


Load highly effective teachers with higher class sizes, and pay these teachers more to do an increasingly impossible job—or invest in small class sizes as a way to attract highly effective teachers to hard-to-staff schools, and see dividends that pay off in higher student achievement as students progress through school.

Last week’s most-clicked ASCD SmartBrief story weighed the two sides of the class-size debate, as it’s playing out in Denver. Our position on this topic is neatly summed up by Canadian teacher Joe Bower.

RT @Joe_Bower: When people say class size doesn’t matter, they are talking about other people’s children.

To wit, Tom Boasberg, superintendent of Denver Public Schools, has magical thinking for other people’s children (but plays it safe by sending his own kids to school in more-affluent Boulder):

“If my children could have a teacher who was not as great in a class of 22, or a phenomenal teacher with 28 or 30, and you gave me that choice as a parent, it’s very clear I’d choose the latter,” said Boasberg.

Of course, small class sizes matter less if the teaching is terrible—but that’s true of any approach. Class size and teacher effectiveness is only an either / or question because of funding priorities.


  1. If we are talking to a parent of a student with a disability, and their options are a pull out classroom with 12 students or less, or an integrated co-teaching model with up to 30 students, what would most parents choose? I am a Special Education teacher in New York State, and next school year we will be implementing an integrated co-teaching model for one section of 8th grade math. This is different from the model we currently use, which is a 12:1:1 self-contained math class. I am interested to see the results of this switch in classes, and would welcome any input from other educators on this topic. If there are two teachers in the room, is class size less of an issue? Or would parents still choose the smaller setting, even though students would not be exposed to as much content?

  2. I think small class sizes are important because it allows the teacher to build a more meaningful relationship with her students. It is important, especially in the younger grades, for the kids to see how and why they matter. By having small class sizes, the students will feel more involved in the class activities and discussions. This could help them feel more successful in school in the long run. It is also easier for a teacher to work one on one with students who need more help either in supportive ways or in extending the curriculum.


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