Of course class sizes matter

As a retired teacher, I read with interest your March 21 story on Richmond County’s decision to increase class sizes for 2012-13. I was particularly drawn to the quote by Eric Hanushek, a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. He said, “There’s very little evidence that the large class sizes are going to have much, if any, effect on achievement, but it has a lot of fiscal consequences.”

I never was a senior fellow at Stanford, but I did spend 30 years in the classrooms of four Georgia public school systems. Most in Mr. Hanushek’s ivory tower depend heavily on data to make their judgments about educational results, and that is a sound practice. However, the data may not show the practical, real-life experiences of teachers like me.

I wholeheartedly agree with the Richmond County Board of Education’s Barbara Pulliam that class size does affect student achievement. My strengths were organization and classroom management, and I often struggled to the point of embarrassment with larger classes. The more kids in a classroom, the bigger audience they have other than the teacher. Twenty-eight students in a middle-school classroom are unlikely to achieve over the long term at the rate of a classroom of 23. There are just more behavior distractions for the students and the teacher.

School funding challenges are real, but as long as the primary answer continues to be adding students to classrooms, regardless of the quality of the teachers, expect achievement to decline.

When will it stop? Hanushek’s logic is if 35 in a high-school classroom is OK now, why not 40 next year, and 45 the next? His comment reinforces the idea that schools are merely a baby-sitting service or, perhaps more aptly, a holding pen at a cattle sale. You only need one cowboy.

Gene Walker

Thomson

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