Reducing class sizes not the answer

Everytime the teachers unions cut up rough, coincidentally whenever National is in government, they bang on about class sizes. Yet they never seem to be able to get it organised, ever, even when their Labour pals are in to reduce them down.

They go on and on about the issue because they say that is affecting the education of children. To a point they are right, but usully they are simply tinkering because a class size of 28 is not so different from a class size of 32. It still means that there isn’t enough time for the children to get face time with the teacher. Unles they are of course advocating for class sizes of around 8, which they aren’t.

New research suggests that reducing class sizes fails to improve student performance at school and the government would do better to focus on improving teacher quality.

It found mandated class-size reductions of two to three students – costing $1500 a student or $1 million a school each year – resulted in no significant improvement in academic outcomes for students in Florida.

The report author, Ben Jensen, director of the school of education program at the Grattan Institute, an Australian think tank, said the money would be better invested in improving teacher quality.

This is the argument we are having right here in NZ. The teachers unions are whining about class sizes and tell everyone off who disagrees because they are the font of all knowledge. The teacher unions in Australia are campaigning on the same issue.

It comes as the Australian Education Union, which represents 180,000 public school teachers, wages a public campaign for smaller class sizes.

Dr Jensen said a student with a teacher in the top 10 per cent of the profession can achieve in six months what a student with a poor teacher can achieve in a year.

He said Australia needed to improve the effectiveness of all teachers by 10 per cent or improve the poorest teachers by 14 per cent.

This would help students learn 5 per cent more each year and improve Australia’s declining performance in world rankings of student performance.

Australia ranks eighth in the latest OECD comparisons and falls significantly behind Finland, Hong Kong China and Canada.

”Improving teacher effectiveness would have a greater impact on economic growth than any other reform before Australian governments,” Dr Jensen said in his report.

”The improvement in student learning could lift Australian students to the top of international performance tables.”

He argues that this in turn would lift productivity, increasing growth by $90 billion by 2050, making Australians 12 per cent richer by the turn of the century.

Sounds like a great deal, if only teacher unions, and governments would look past class sizes.

Dr Jensen said to achieve this, governments would need to take their focus off reducing class sizes. ”The vast majority of studies around the world have shown that class-size reductions do not significantly improve schooling and student outcomes,” he said.

”Initiatives to improve teacher effectiveness not only help students more, they cost much less.”

So there are even more studies that show the union catch-cry of reducing class sizes to improve education is complete rubbish. Well now, there’s a surprise, teacher unions talking rubbish.

If teachers unions (note I said unions, not teachers) were really interested in educational outcomes then they would embrace research and policy that focuses on teacher effective-ness, but here they don’t want any such thing, they want uniform pay irrespective of efective-ness in the classroom, that means they want to reward mediocrity.

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