Education Letter to the Editor

Does Class Size Affect How Teachers Teach?

November 15, 2005 1 min read

To the Editor:

Saul Cooperman’s suggestion that we can pay teachers more by increasing the numbers of students per teacher initially makes sense (“Increase Class Size—And Pay Teachers More,”Commentary, Nov. 2, 2005.) As Mr. Cooperman points out, teachers are unlikely to change their teaching styles much with 30 students in a class as opposed to 20.

The problems occur when the 10 extra students are multiplied by five classes, and the teachers’ out-of-class grading chores are increased by one-half. Teachers then will assign less written work or grade papers less thoroughly.

Assuming that teachers are already working at full throttle, there is simply no way to increase class sizes and maintain the level of services that teachers now provide.

Patrick Mattimore

San Francisco, Calif.

To the Editor:

If Saul Cooperman expects to persuade readers with his contrarian argument, he needs to at least get his facts straight. He builds his provocative case on the wobbly assertion that most teachers don’t change their instructional approach despite fluctuations in class size, citing the study released in December 2004 by the University of London’s Institute of Education.

That’s not what the study found at all. It said: “Perhaps the clearest effects of class size were on teaching. Pupils in smaller classes were more likely to be the focus of a teacher’s attention and to experience more teaching overall in mathematics, while in larger classes pupils were more likely to be one of the crowd.”

The study went on to further call into question Mr. Cooperman’s proposal, when it noted that “pupils in larger classes were found to have a more passive role in contact with the teacher; in smaller classes, pupils were more likely to interact in an active way with teachers, initiating contacts, responding to the teachers, and sustaining interaction with them.”

It’s ironic that Mr. Cooperman concludes by asking if educators and parents will debate his proposal on the facts, rather than on emotion. He’s best advised to bear in mind an adage in journalism: Get it first, but first get it right.

Walt Gardner

Los Angeles, Calif.

The writer was a teacher for 28 years in the Los Angeles Unified School District.