Two terms are frequently tossed about, sometimes interchangeably, when educators discuss teaching and learning.  I recently read an article that helped to clarify in my mind how “student/teacher ratio” and “class size” relate to teaching and learning in the classroom.  …thought you might find this interesting as it directly relates to our future.

So what is pupil/teacher ratio and how does it relate to teaching and learning?  An average pupil/teacher ratio of 10:1 could mean I have two master teachers each teaching a Spanish class. One teacher is assigned a Spanish class with 1 average ability student; the second teacher is assigned a Spanish class with 19 students, 55% of which have learning issues.  Does this mean the students in both Spanish classes will receive the same excellent education?  This is why class size and not pupil/teacher ratio is the only definitive gauge of academic achievement.

According to the article:

“Class size is not pupil/teacher ratio. The analysis of pupil/teacher ratios is characteristic of the ecological approach and shares some of the same difficulties. Although the number of pupils can be compared to the number of teaching staff in a single school, the ratio obfuscates the workload faced by a teacher in one classroom, the amount of attention the teacher gives to any one pupil, and dynamics of a small or large class that may impact on pupil participation;3 these interactions may be especially important for students at risk. At the same time, pupil/teacher ratios are often smaller in urban districts (because of Title I programs, special education programs and remedial teachers), while actual class sizes may be larger. One significant study (Boozer & Rouse, 1995) found that average class size–a more direct measure of classroom organization–was more important to academic achievement than the pupil/teacher ratio.”

The  article also concluded from research that: “[t]he major benefits from reduced class size are obtained as the size is reduced below 20 pupils.” –   Research on the Academic Effects of Small Class Size

Moving along to even more compelling research on class size,  a post in the blog Dacha written by an educator “for parents and others about the K-12 world”  strengthens the argument in support of smaller class size: Does Class Size Matter?

So, what does all of this mean for us?  Well, in a school with a student demographic  shifting towards larger and larger numbers of at risk students, when you increase class size from say 15 students per class to 20 students per class, among other considerations, academic achievement falters in core academic subjects.

Now, moving onto core skills and becoming a school of the future…  Shouldn’t math, science, and humanities classes with a high percent of at risk students be smaller rather than larger in order to build a strong foundation of core skills?

As you remember, the P21 curricular framework (The Partnership for 21st Century Skills Framework) sits upon a strong foundation of core subjects as well as 21st century themes, two pillars we agreed would help us move forward.  You may also recall more recently, The Partnership for 21st Century Skills was in the NAIS Commission on accreditation report: “A 21st Century Imperative: A Guide to Becoming a School of the Future”.  It appears we were definitely headed in the right direction last year when our middle school team agreed to adopt, then modify the P21 framework.  (21st Century Jewish-American Citizens).

Class size and 21st century teaching and learning go hand in hand when it comes to core skills and academic achievement.  Only when working from an exemplary mission-integrated model based on the Partnership for 21st Century Skills framework when making current decisions regarding classes and teachers will economics not trump current educational research, pedagogy and reason.  Ignoring a collective step-into-the-future plan is such a demoralizing waste .

To wrap it  up, with more at risk students headed our way, research on class size indicates we must focus on and problem-solve ways to create smaller core classes if we are to facilitate 21st century academic achievement. First things first, let’s not become derailed by implementing exciting 21st century themes based on a weak foundation of core skills and a a strong educational framework.  For all the right educational reasons, we need to be using a praise-worthy blueprint to guide us forward into 21st century teaching and learning.


About Donna

Changing educational paradigms motivate me to share new technology as well as the admirable work of others who integrate contemporary research on how people learn with supportive, free digital applications and resources. Do teachers ever have enough time or money? Perhaps my discoveries will expedite the journey of a busy educator seeking a 21st Century 'true north' of his or her own.

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