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on Aug 25, 2011
The subtext of this article is misleading. Nice jab at Foothill - if you read on, the article shows that Foothill already had a higher number, and only experienced a .05% drop. Although both numbers are impressive, let's make sure that we report all the facts. We should celebrate the hard work these kids have done, and wish them the best in their future educational pursuits!
The subtext to the header line is terrible. Come on Weekly.
Congratulations to the students, their parents and the district
With class sizes increasing.... over the legal limit in some classes at Foothill (and not enough seats for all the kids) and the cutting of higher level classes....I say look for these test scores to decrease.
SAT scores shouldn't be impacted by classroom changes- STAR scores, perhaps. Most of the kids in town here take prep courses for the SAT - there is also a trend towards taking the ACT, which doesn't "dock" students for incorrect answers...
Class size has no significant impact on student performance at the secondary level.
Like Mike says, "Class size has no significant impact on student performance at the secondary level." Quality of schools and teachers also has no significant impact. Noise level and amount of distractions in the classroom? No problem. Teachers feeling overwhelmed by class size and unable to attend to each student's unique needs -- say, contributing a boost to their self esteem? No problem. Take my word for it: Its 85-90% about the child's genes. We almost could do entirely without secondary education altogether. Wouldn't matter a bit.
No, actually, I said that class size has no significant impact on student performance at the secondary level.
You added everything else.
Yes, right, I agree wholeheartedly with you, Mike. I just added thoughts that I think are quite consistent with the view you forwarded. Thanks.
I see your reasoning, but I think it would be incorrect to argue that the insignificance of one factor means the insignificance of all factors.
Yeah ... maaaaaybe. But see, classrooms with a larger number of kids can be expected to have more noise and distractions whether it be coughing, raised hands to visit the restroom, or spitballs. And teachers faced with larger classes, mathematically speaking, have less time to devote to the unique needs of students. And so if larger classes don't have a significant impact, then these other features of larger classes shouldn't have a significant impact either. I mean heck, Mike, it all boils down to the kid, right? At least 85-90 percent of it, right? So why all the hoopla about quality schools and teachers? I think we're actually right on the same page with one another or this one. And I like your logic!
It is indeed true that the student has significantly more impact on educational outcomes than the teacher does, and this probably has something to do with the reason why class size is a minor factor in the process.
The distractions you cite do not strike me as overwhelming given that other even greater distractions exist in the environment, air traffic, trains and short skirts being just a few examples that come to mind.
As for the amount of time the teacher has to devote to each student, more time per student is indeed better if, that is, we are talking about the elementary level, where basic skills are being developed. One-on-one classroom contact in high school is much less frequent because the teacher is not dealing with a target group made up of individual with completely unique problems with the material. By that time, you are dealing with ranges, the type of ranges that can be anticipated and addressed from the chalk board.
Class size and teacher load are not nearly as important as some people make them out to be. Remember, the only way you can keep a kid from learning is to lock him up in a closet without a light.
Yes! I knew it! We ARE on the same page! And I find your authoritative assessments so reassuring! Like I say, larger classes? No big deal. More spitballs, short skirts and other distractions? No big deal. Less individualized attention? No big deal. Overworked, burned out teachers? No problema. Class size, teacher load, quality of instruction, all these are WAY overrated. That's why I personally don't care whether my kids have good teachers or bad ones. The influence teachers have upon kids is so way overrated. Probably 5% or less, don't you think? As long as the teacher isn't locking my kids in a closet without a light, I figure everything is okay.
You are of course free to manipulate things I write to create a straw man to batter, but then you are not actually responding to my argument, are you?
Quite to the contrary, Mike! I agree with you 150%!!!
Mike wrote: "Class size and teacher load are not nearly as important as some people make them out to be."
Actually, the research shows the opposite, that it matters quite a lot.
When Mike says "some people", he means "people who are actually trained educators and know what the hell they're talking about." THOSE people.
But don't let facts get in the way of propaganda.
I was in the teaching business for almost twenty years, and I can tell you that in all that time of delivering staples, rubber bands, and other crucial supplies to schools in the region, I never once heard the kinds of nonsense Yet Another Teacher is trying to pass off as fact. NCTE guidelines? Never heard of such a thing. Fact is, teachers only have a little less than 5% to do with student academic achievement. Take my word for it.
Please consider Japanese vs. American student performance in math and science.
Then consider the fact that Japanese schools have 40 students per class.
Now, if smaller class size can be shown to improve performance in American schools, yet that improved performance produces lower scores than produced by schools in which students learn in classrooms with twice as many students, then how valuable can we say the improved performance produced by smaller class size is?
I'm sure there's several different factors involved to help explain the difference, one of which is teaching methods used in different size classes (Japan also has year-round school). When Roman wrote, "Less individualized attention?", that poster is trying to refer to the fact that smaller class sizes facilitate more individualized teaching methods. With larger class sizes, maybe in Japan they also have better intervention policies and practices than we do here.
In Japan the maximum class size is set at 40, but their average class size is closer to 30. Web Link
This may surprise you. Here's a Japanese teacher giving his opinion to an American mom worried about the larger class size. Web Link
""I understand your concerns," he said. "But there are also advantages to larger classes, you know. Many activities work better when the group is larger." My son, who had been listening, spoke up enthusiastically. "Like dodge ball, Mom! Dodge ball games are a lot more fun with bigger classes."
I rolled my eyes, but his teacher nodded seriously. "He's right. Games like dodge ball work better with larger groups, and games are an important part of school life," he explained. "Also, if the class is too small, there isn't enough diversity for students to make different types of friends and develop socially."
That was an interesting point. I thought back to all the research on class size I had reviewed for this article. Now that he mentioned it, most of the studies focused on academic achievement. Very few studies examined the effect of class size on other goals of education, such as the emotional and social development of children.
"Rather than reduce class size too much," my son's teacher continued, "I'd advocate letting schools use flexible instruction methods, such as having an extra teacher in the classroom for shoninzu shido (small-group instruction)."
Mike just keeps hammering the nail on the head. Japan is certainly the model we should strive to emulate. 30+-something kids per classroom, two drill instructors in front of each class, 240 days a year in school as opposed to our 180, 5-1/2 days per week with mandatory 'make-up' classes later in the day for the stragglers.
It's amazing what can be done with larger class sizes in a society with such a diverse population as Japan's. Always known as a playful, free-thinking, democratic people (see the nation's impressive response to its recent nuclear crisis), and reknowned for their contributions to the arts and philosophy, I think Japan is unarguably one of the most creative societies civilization has ever known. This explodes the myth that students respond well to individual attention from teachers in the classroom. Mass drill instruction is far superior, and contributes to an exceptionally well-rounded student.
I know American professors never cease to be impressed by Japanese foreign students' abilities to think outside the box. The creative, free-thinking character of the Japanese student obviously comes from experiencing dodge-ball and other advantages of being in a large classroom. Mandatory uniforms also contribute much in this regard.
YAT delivers the union line again saying that research shows that classroom size reduction is needed. There is probably more research saying the opposite. The union will always be pushing for classroom size reduction as it adds more members to the union rolls. They will never agree to a longer school year or anything else that could benefit the students.. The union is not concerned on education; only on protecting teachers wages and benefits. Individual teachers, however, do care about education.
Roman*, Stacey, YAT:
I see that the goal posts are being changed and anecdotal evidence is being introduced, a sign that this discussion is coming to a close.
Japanese performance on international tests makes it clear that class size is not the decisive factor. When American kids score higher than their Japanese counterparts in the international arena, then we can talk about the role of class size in that success.
*Roman, your ad hominem dig about delivering rubber bands doesn't change reality. By the way, my experience in education was in the classroom, the last half teaching at the tertiary level. Although I left the business for more lucrative pastures (under the "Those who can, do" theory of economics), I continue to keep my myself in the game by teaching a course at a community college.
"Japanese performance on international tests makes it clear that class size is not the decisive factor." At least that's what Mike now claims.
Hmmmm. I thought Mike was the guy claiming that class size was NO factor!
At any rate, given the "supportive" evidence provided by Mike and others, it's obvious that the differences between Japan's and our own educational systems are so vast as to render any one-to-one comparison invalid.
If that's the best the tertiary teacher Mike can do by way of evidence, then it's clear he doesn't have much to offer. Some bald assertions, and then a selectively exaggerated, anecdotal reference to Japan as evidence? I'd hope Mike doesn't reward his students for engaging in such sloppy thinking.
First, the parents lobby the Board to restrict the number of hours their kids have to do homework, and then they dangle Japanese schools in front of us as a model?
I studied in Japan, and I can tell you that the average Japanese student spends six hours a day, every day, on homework. And they also have qualifying exams appropriately known as "Exam Hell". The pressure to get into a university is so intense than parents now start sending their children to examination prep classes in PRESCHOOL.
American students are also--surprise!--more individualistic and less group-oriented than the Japanese. Very different cultures, and comparing their system to ours is mostly an apples vs. oranges comparison. Japanese schools also score very weak on teaching creative/innovative thinking, and their Ministry of Education is actually attempting to emulate the American style of teaching to encourage more creativity in their students (!).
But once again, the misinformed and ignorant rave on, not bothering to, oh, I don't know, read a book, read an article, or gather any actual facts.
I think Stacey's post proves exactly why the USA will never triumph over the Japanese dodgeball team at the Olympics.
Once a tertiary student,
"a selectively exaggerated, anecdotal reference to Japan as evidence"
Far from being anecdotal, the results of international testing are generally accepted as very solid evidence; in this particular case, very solid evidence that class size is not a factor.
Would it be out of line to ask for qualifying details; namely, what and for how long you studied in Japan?
I ask because as long as this discussion has become anecdotal, I am also very familiar with Japanese education and society, and I find your description somewhat superficial.
For example, I can assure you that a great many Japanese students do not study for six hours after school (though their parents and teachers wish they would!), that "Examination Hell" is no more hellish for Japanese high school students than the SAT is for Americans, that while some parents do enroll their kids in so-called "escalator-type schools", that population is insignificant (weird new stories) against the number of kids who enter top universities out of the public system (and quite possibly similar to American parents who enroll their kids in expensive "prep" programs with "traditional ties" to top universities), that the Ministry of Education has only toyed with the idea of adopting certain aspects of the American school system (mainly longer summer vacation), meeting heavy resistance from educators and parents who cite Japan's international performance as the best reason to "stick with the current game plan," that the Japanese are no less individualistic than Americans are (ever been to Yoyogi on the weekends or a school festival?), and that Japanese schools do very well at teaching creative/ innovative skills (just take a look at Japanese art, music, literature, not to mention Toyota, Sony and a host of other global giants. OK, and Japan has a few Nobel Prizes and Olympic medals under its belt, too).
Different cultures? Sure, but if we look deeper, we often find that the differences are merely superficial covers to hugely similar experiences. We are, after all, human.
Ok, I give up. The Japanese made up the idea of "Exam Hell" just to mess with our heads, American and Japanese culture is identical, and Japanese culture does not emphasize group conformity and harmony.
Mike is right and everybody here had better listen to him and not to me. (Does anybody else get the impression that Mike is an expert on everything?)
Oh, and I have some good news. This is my last comment on PleasantonWeekly. I clearly have nothing of value to share, so I'll spend my time elsewhere. Break out the party hats!
Once a tertiary student,
Well,then would you please explain how Japan's performance in international testing could be used as evidence for the benefit of smaller class size?
I'll take that as a "No."
In all fairness, though, you claimed certain experience that implied knowledge related to the discussion. I asked if you would be willing to qualify that experience by stating what you studied in Japan and how long you were there.
Your response indicates that the experience you claim may not have as much weight as you implied it had. This is, by the way, one of the reasons that it is generally best to avoid anecdotal evidence.
Well, Mike, are you _intentionally_ missing the points raised by YAT, Stacey, Roman (I think), and myself? Japan's performance in internat'l testing offers evidence for neither smaller nor larger class sizes. Got that? Japan's performance MIGHT offer SOME evidence in this regard, but only if all other variables were identical and held constant between Japan and US. This seems to have gone entirely past you: many/most of the variables between the two nations are not identical. In fact, they are widely disparate, thus making any attempt to draw valid comparisons an exercise in futility.
YAT -- I do hope you have a change of heart. I've always enjoyed your posts very much, and have not infrequently learned from them. Yet I do understand your frustration.
Mike -- heaven help your students.
Once a tertiary student,
The reality is that Japan has consistently performed better than the US in international testing. This means that what they do works. And the fact that this happens in classrooms with 40 students does not help people who claim smaller class size is critical.
Or are you limiting the discussion to the studies that show the benefit of smaller class size for impoverished and minority students in the elementary grades? If you limit the discussion to a disadvantaged subset of a single population, then I would agree that smaller class size helps bunches. Compare average populations internationally, however, and you'll see that class size exerts no significant influence on educational outcomes.
One of my teachers called the ad hominem the consolation prize in an argument because, he said, it gives the loser something to feel good about.
If I might interject with a few questions having watched this discussion, what is it that other countries/states/communities do better than us? What should we consider changing in K-12 education, and how do we get those changes implemented faster than a glacial pace? We are increasingly behind and that means the next generations will have a more difficult time being competitive (not true of every child of course). I posted this before. Web Link There is an interactive graph where you can compare states and countries.
Spot on, Kathleen.
It is always best to use data from the largest possible population. Other school districts, towns, states and countries offer outstanding examples of jobs well done, as do we, and we should take advantage of these by examining their potential, running pilot programs, evaluating their success and appropriateness, and implementing district-wide change when we find winners.
The most valuable lesson to be learned in education is that we can learn from anyone.
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