Saturday, 23 March 2013

Class Size or Quality Teachers

It's been found that the countries that are the strongest performers in PISA test results are not the wealthiest, nor do they allocate more money to education than other countries in their league . So, national wealth is not an indicator of student performance. What about Class Size ?

Smaller class size is often assumed to be better as a student will have more attention time per teacher and hence shall lead to better student performance.In the past, a lot of debate and discussion has taken place on reducing the class size. And small class size seem to have emerged as one of the parameter of quality schooling. (Though, for popular MOOCs, we see an ever increasing class size)

It's logical reasoning but not necessarily true. Countries like Korea and Japan with high class sizes among OECD countries have much better PISA test results than Luxembourg and Austria.





Andreas Schleicher in his TED Talk unravels this puzzle . He takes case of Korea and Luxembourg , both countries spending similar spending per student relative to a country's wealth .

He says," One way you can spend money is by paying teachers well, and you can see Korea investing a lot in attracting the best people into the teaching profession. And Korea also invests into long school days, which drives up costs further. Last but not least, Koreans want their teachers not only to teach but also to develop. They invest in professional development and collaboration and many other things. All that costs money.How can Korea afford all of this? The answer is, students in Korea learn in large classes........ But, you know, parents and teachers and policymakers in Luxembourg all like small classes. You know, it's very pleasant to walk into a small class. So they have invested all their money into there, and the blue bar, class size, is driving costs up. But even Luxembourg can spend its money only once, and the price for this is that teachers are not paid particularly well. Students don't have long hours of learning. And basically, teachers have little time to do anything else than teaching. So you can see two countries spent their money very differently, and actually how they spent their money matters a lot more than how much they invest in education."




Of course that doesn't  mean, that no regard shall be paid to class size swelling up to 50-60 or even more students in many schools in India. However, at the country level, a PISA report finds that the size of the class is unrelated to the school system’s overall performance; in other words, high-performing countries tend to prioritize investment in teachers over smaller classes. 





12 comments:

  1. If the class size is more than 20-25; it becomes difficult for teacher to give focused attention to individual student.

    Time in class has to be optimum to retain interest and overcome fatigue.

    Teacher motivation through attractive payment is vital irrespective of the class size.

    INDRAJIT SETHI

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  2. exactly. class size should be restricted to 30--40. I know it is not possible in as much as colleges want to make profit out of this. In case the group is focussed a class of 100 is also ok. I have seen this in pre recruitment classes where we use to communicate with mike and loud speaker -- classes are received well without disturbances.

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  3. The article needs to be revisited. So much word space is devoted to Korea, a non-Western, highly homogeneous country and to Luxembourg, one of the wealthiest countries per capita in the world with a population smaller than that of a small city in the US! The graphs trotted out also focus on one year.

    For the commentary to be meaningful you need to look at decent sized samples, statistics from culturally relevant jurisdictions (i.e. those which have a diverse population as opposed to a homogeneous one), and statistics that capture long trends as opposed to anomalies.

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    1. Appreciate your feedback. However, comparison between Korea and Luxembourg was made by Andreas(see video) because both countries spending on education is almost similar per student basis while they lie on opposite side of the class size graph shown.

      Also, my point is not to completely disregard the class size. " ...Of course that doesn't mean, that no regard shall be paid to class size swelling up to 50-60 or even more students in many schools.." But given the choice between small class size and quality teachers, the latter is likely to give better student performance. For more in depth analysis, follow the link highlighted in reference to PISA report.

      I didn't understand your reference to 'homogenous' population. Does that infer that student performance is better in a homogenous group?

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  4. It is not just dependent on size of classes or the teachers, the types of students and their families also greatly impact learning outcomes.

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  5. Notice that the maximum class size is 35. The US average class size is skewed by Special Education classes. I would like to know if the classes of Special Education, which in my district has 2 - 6 students, with 2 teachers and 2 teacher's aides in the class. This GREATLY skews the average class size. My average class size is 31 and I am a United States teacher. You also need to consider how many of the "leading" countries mainstream their Special Education students at all, much less to the degree that American education does. I have an Autistic student in EACH class and an additional 4 - 6 IEPs PER CLASS. That has more of an effect on the learning in my classroom than the number of students in the class. Many countries test out low performers at an early age and are left with only honor students. You give me 50 honor students and I can be more effective than 25 students who have ranging IQs from 70 - 140.

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  6. PISA is a valuable instrument, and Andreas Schleicher has done a fine job in overseeing the construction of the test and its attendant questionnaires, but it's misguided to also allow him to also take the lead in interpreting the results. PISA does not test writing, and small class size is vital for progress in writing. Much of Korea's success is attributable to the amount of time students spend studying at after-school cram schools; Mr. Schleicher never accounts for this. Luxembourg's school demographics are heavily skewed by the large number of the children of what are in effect the foreign-born servants in the rich country; Mr. Schleicher never takes account of that, either.

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    1. Thanks Bruce for raising the point about testing writing. Personally, I believe there are many other skills too which are not tested by standardized tests. Perhaps , will take couple of years to be included.

      Indeed, Cram schools in Korea are widespread. And it could be a factor in overall student success. That is why, I have used the first graph which displays reading performance which is less likely to be influenced by cram schools.

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    2. I spent a year teaching in Korean cram schools, and tutored two Korean students (here in California) this morning. I have never heard Mr. Schleicher acknowledge the presence of tutors, and there is no practical way to disaggregate tutors' effects upon the test results that some American educational reformers want to use to reward or punish classroom teachers. Also, if Korean schools were so great, one wonders why so many Korean parents would spend so much of their money supplementing their children's schoolwork or sending them abroad to be educated.

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  7. http://www.city-journal.org/2011/cjc0707ls.html

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  8. Perhaps the real difference made is in the culture around learning and schooling. Clearly in Korea, education is highly valued; why else would there be long school days, cram schools, tutors etc? This culture is the net result of parents valuing education and society supporting this.

    I would be interested to see this hypothesis tested:
    "A student with an average teacher and supportive parents will achieve more academically than a student with an excellent teacher and unsupportive parents".

    I would also argue that the culture around behaviour of students is a stronger predicate of student performance than a lot of other factors.

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  9. A significant difference between the Korean and the Korean-American situations is that in South Korea, when I went there (1992), there was a quota for college admissions, which meant that if you scored in the 75th percentile on the college admissions examination, you were in; if in the 74th, you weren't, and could only count on a job described by the three Ds (dirty, difficult, dangerous); no such situation can be found here. Nonetheless, Korean immigrants to America carry their culture with them, and continue to hire tutors as a means to get ahead in an American educational environment that offers great rewards to high achievers.

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