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IT'S REALLY SIMPLE

SMALL CLASSES ARE BETTER AT ALL LEVELS

3/15/01

 

    I've written before of what I consider the absurdity of believing the "field" of education to be a science. I'm not even sure it is a discipline or field like history, math or philosophy. Yet today's educationists blither away about this research finding and that. So much of what they say is about as useful to teachers and policy makers as the research in the following story I heard awhile ago.             
    The story is told of the education researcher who was doing experiments on centipedes to see if the fact that they have one hundred legs has anything to do with their ability to learn. The venerable researcher cut off ten of a centipede's legs and said, "Jump centipede. Jump." And the centipede jumped.    

    Our researcher then cut off fifty of the centipede's legs and again said, "Jump centipede. Jump." And again, the centipede jumped.                                                                                                     
    The Ed professor continued the experiment in this way until he had finally cut off all of the centipede's legs. Then when he said, "Jump centipede. Jump," this time the little creature lay before the professor without moving.                                                                                                           
    The Ed researcher picked up his notebook and slowly and solemnly recorded the following as the results of his experiment. "When one cuts off all of the legs of centipedes, they become deaf."   

    For years, teachers have maintained that reducing class size has a beneficial effect on students as well as on their teachers. Students learn more because teachers are able to teach more effectively and enjoy their work more. It was not until fairly recently that a study done in Tennessee convinced most people of what any half decent teacher always knew. Interestingly, it wasn't until politician's like Bill Clinton put class size on the table of ever school district in the United States that the research began to show the positive effects of class size reduction in the elementary grades. Do I think there is a connection? My very unscientific answer is that it wouldn't surprise me to find that when a society seems to want to believe that class size reduction yields beneficial educational outcomes, education research shows a positive correlation between class size reduction and student achievement. I remember a time when research showed that we could help the homeless and destitute. That research contributed to the launching of the Great Society legislation of the Johnson administration.   
    As the major spokesperson for the Plainview-Old Bethpage Congress of Teachers, I have spent much of this school year focusing on the issue of class size. Our union was a major supporter of the recent bond referendum that led to the opening of the Pasadena School, which if it is staffed as the superintendent's budget calls for, will provide enough space to allow for elementary classes to be smaller then they have been for a long time. That's great news, but we must not forget the secondary schools. We don't need any research to tell us as teachers and parents that children do better in smaller classes and that teachers can do a better job when they are responsible for the education of one hundred students or less than they can when they must work with one hundred twenty-five or more. The observations of thousands upon thousands of teachers tell us that this is so. Yet, some voices in our school community continue to maintain that "the research doesn't show the same effect for class size reduction at the secondary level that has been demonstrated for the elementary grades." These people are correct. We don't have such research. But look at how many years we wasted waiting for the research on elementary class size to tell us what good teachers always knew. Must our secondary school students await research to give them what we know they need?               
    Next year we will have some eighteen new high school classrooms and our middle school population will finally be balanced. The community was told that this was done in part to be able to reduce class size. It's time to make good on this promise. I believe there is no higher priority for our district.

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