The Benefits of Lower Student-Teacher Ratio in Classrooms
One of the key issues that the government is looking into is the decrease of the quality of education received by Americans in pre-school, elementary and secondary. The rise in academic achievement gap between Caucasians and members of the minority groups such as Hispanics and African-Americans further alarmed the government to take into action regarding this matter. Many suggestions have been made in order to address this issue. One of this is the reduction of student-teacher ratio in schools in the United States by lowering the sizes of classrooms. This paper will present the benefits of the reduction of classroom sizes with regards to the academic achievement of the students as well as the disadvantages experts have seen with this method for the improvement of the quality of education in American schools.
Smaller Classroom Sizes in the United States
It has now been widely accepted by members of the local government and school district officials that smaller classrooms are able to boost the quality of education and academic performance seen among the American youth, particularly those who come from minority groups and those from low-income families. This is because the number of students that a teacher would need to look after is smaller as compared to the student population seen in regular classrooms today (Blatchford, Bassett, Goldstein & Martin 2003; Blatchford & Martin 1998; Finn, Pannozzo & Achilles 2003).
The interest of local school districts in the different states in the United States to lower the population of students in the classrooms began after the results of Project STAR done in Tennessee was released. Prior to this, the publication “A Nation at Risk” was released emphasizing the need for schools to re-evaluate the academic quality received by American students who have been seen to fall behind students from other European and Asian countries. One of the suggestions presented by the publication was the reduction of classroom size. Based on this, the state of Tennessee launched a state-wide study on this proposal to validate its effectiveness. The results of the study were promising. Based on the study conducted, researchers noticed that there were major changes that occurred on the students’ learning behavior, particularly on the engagement of the student on the subject matter, classroom work and availability of social support. The willingness of the student to become involved in school work is crucial for his or her academic achievement because these deal with the processes that contribute to learning within the classroom. If the student is not willing to engage in activities in school, that student will be less likely to understand and learn the material being presented by the teacher (Blatchford, Bassett, Goldstein & Martin 2003; Finn, Pannozzo & Achilles 2003; Nye, Hedges & Konstantopoulos 2002; Pong & Pallas 2001).
Another benefit for the reduction of the student population in a classroom is that this will allow a lower student-teacher ratio in schools. This would then allow the teachers to know their students on a more personal level. As such, they would be able to use a wider variety of teaching strategies in order to meet the needs of each and every student in the class. Because teachers change their strategies when class sizes are reduced, they are able to provide more individualized instruction and a higher quality of instruction to their students. They are also able to maximize school hours since a lower student population in the classroom would mean that the teacher would have to discipline a smaller number of students. Thus, allowing the teacher to spend more time on instruction and learning and less time on classroom management and student discipline (Blatchford & Martin 1998; Finn, Pannozzo & Achilles 2003; Pong & Pallas 2001).
On the part of the students, they are able to become more socially and academically engaged on the lectures and classroom works. This would result to the students learning and fostering behaviors that are considered to be pro-social, making them able to follow rules and regulations of the school, foster relationships with their teachers to allow them to become more comfortable in participating actively in classroom activities (Finn, Pannozzo & Achilles 2003).
Limitations of Classroom Population Reduction
While the results of the Project STAR study were promising and further supported by other similar studies such as the Project SAGE study conducted in Wisconsin, many have been skeptical with regards to the benefits promised by the studies in terms of the increase of the academic achievement of students in the country. The primary concern seen by many researchers was the validity of the study conducted regarding this. Because the studies done on the effectiveness of class size reduction is often done in small scale and on a short-term basis, one cannot be definite on whether the positive effects noticed are due to the special circumstances surrounding the experiment or whether they would have occurred if the use of smaller classes had happened in a more natural setting (Nye, Hedges & Konstantopoulos 2002). This speculation is further heightened with studies conducted in schools in different European countries such as China, Singapore and the United Kingdom have stated that students in these countries are able to excel academically despite being placed in classrooms whose student populations are the same or even larger as compared to the regular classroom population of the schools in the United States (Blatchford, Bassett, Goldstein & Martin 2003; Nye, Hedges & Konstantopoulos 2002).
With this conflicting information, another issue skeptics of the reduction of classroom population method have looked into is the cost that would be handled by the local government in order to implement this change in the classroom student population. In order to ensure that the student population in classrooms of a particular school is reduced, more classrooms must be created and along with this, more and more teachers would need to be hired. This may cause many school districts to hire teachers that have limited or no experience in teaching. This being the case, the quality of education given to schools with lower school population may actually decrease rather than increase because of the lack of experience of the teachers that may be hired in order to ensure that the student-teacher ratio in schools is kept at a minimum, making this method to improve the quality of education in school systems to become extremely costly (Blatchford, Bassett, Goldstein & Martin 2003; Nye, Hedges & Konstantopoulos 2002).
Finally, because of many of the students that are placed in classrooms with smaller student population are those that are considered as students at-risk and composed of students from minority ethnic groups, the quality of talk and work in groups can be relatively at a low level, and that the students may not always be confident of what is required of them. Some students may also feel outmoded and discredited when placed in classrooms with smaller student populations because of the composition of the students they are placed with. This may cause students to foster feelings to become anti-social and withdrawn from their schoolmates, which is contrary to what school districts may be expecting (Blatchford & Martin 1998; Finn, Pannozzo & Achilles 2003).
Just like any proposed change, the move to reduce the number of students in the classrooms of the schools in the United States have been seen to have both positive and negative effects. On one hand, smaller student populations in the classrooms would allow a teacher to concentrate on the needs of each of the students in the class with regards to their learning capacity. Because there is a lower number of students to be disciplined, classroom management becomes minimal, allowing the teacher to be able to concentrate on instruction methods, resulting in the students being able to learn more in school. On the other hand, because the reduction of student population in the classroom would mean that more teachers would need to be hired in order to keep the student-teacher ratio at a minimum, there is a possibility that teachers lacking the needed experience in order to effectively handle and teach the subject matter to a group of students would be hired. This would mean that instead of increasing the academic achievement rate of the students, this movement would do the complete opposite, making the changes extremely costly.
Minimizing the number of students in a classroom would be beneficial in the pursuit of state officials to improve the quality of education that is received by the students. However, there are also other determinants that need to be taken into consideration with regards to the students enrolled in the school which may hinder them to achieve the quality of education provided. For example, the socio-economic status of the family of the student as well as their point-of-view with the attainment of education may affect how the student behaves in class and how well they are able to acquire the information being passed on. Before this would be implemented, state officials should create their own studies on the effectiveness of this method to the improvement of the quality of education received taking into consideration other factors such as the availability of experienced teachers.
Blatchford, P., Bassett, P., Goldstein, H. & Martin, C. (October 2003). Are class size
difference related to pupils’ educational progress and classroom processes? Findings
from the Institute of Education class study of children aged 5-7 years. British
educational research journal, 29(5), 709-30.
Blatchford, P. & Martin, C. (June 1998). Research review: the effects of class size on
classroom processes: “it’s a bit like a treadmill working hard and getting nowhere
fast!” British journal of educational studies, 46(2), 118-37.
Finn, J. D., Pannozzo, G. M. & Achilles, C. M. (Autumn 2003). The “why’s” of class size:
student behavior in small classes. Review of educational research, 73(3), 321-68.
Nye, B., Hedges, L. V. & Konstantopoulos, S. (Autumn 2002). Do low-achieving students
benefit more from small classes? Evidence from the Tennessee class size experiment.
Education evaluation and policy analysis, 24(3), 201-17.
Pong, S. & Pallas, A. (Autumn 2001). Class size and eight-grade math achievement in the
United States and abroad. Educational evaluation and policy analysis, 23(3), 251-73.