Large class sizes are blamed as one of the major downfalls of public education. While privately-educated children are treated to almost one-to-one tutoring, the less privileged students are lost in a sea of young faces trying to understand quadratic formulas. And this is worsened by US teacher shortages.
Thanks to breakthroughs in the psychology of cognition, we now know education is not a one-size-fits-all system. Children learn in different ways, and have different paces of understanding.
In smaller classes, teachers can take the time to identify each child’s individual needs and give them the support they need. However, in a class with 30 or more students, it would be impossible for a single teacher to implement a personalised learning experience for each student.
Last year for me was all about minimal marking, using codes. This year I have a reduced teaching timetable, and the luxury of small class sizes, so I'm rediscovering the joy of personalised comments and #starwarsmarking pic.twitter.com/CyybkjWWpP
— Heather Greatbatch (@MsGreatbatch) December 13, 2017
Nicole Hedges, a primary school teacher in the UK told Study International that larger class sizes make teaching difficult due to the mixed abilities in year groups.
“I think sets for whole classes are necessary, particularly as an English teacher. Differentiation is difficult even within a set, so I can’t imagine the extra workload having a completely mixed ability class,” she said.
A 2017 study carried out by Michael Gilraine found that when a class of average size (32 students) was reduced by just four students, maths and reading achievements improved in an amount equal to if the students had received an extra two months of classroom learning time, reported Education World.
Unable to facilitate smaller class sizes, some states in the US have began assigning two teachers to classes containing over 32 students.
Last year, Iowa launched the Weighted Resource Allocation Model which staffed schools in disadvantaged areas more heavily than privileged areas in the state. Schools with students in the ‘high barriers’ group showed significant gains of 11 percent in reading proficiency, showing the initiative to be successful.
However, with a teaching shortage afflicting the whole of the US, assigning more teachers to a classroom is currently unfeasible.
Schools are already struggling to provide even one teacher for every classroom, so smaller class sizes or more teachers are not yet on the US education agenda.