Editorial: Consider class sizes
photo by: Journal-World Photo Illustration
The Lawrence school board is right to reconsider how it approaches school class size.
Board policy states that kindergarten through third-grade classes should be from 13 to 17 students and that fourth- and fifth-grade classes should be from 18 to 26 students. But school board members Kelly Jones and Shannon Kimball said the class size goals have not been met since they were written into board policy in 2010.
“Goals are only actionable if they have outcomes,” Jones said. “There are no outcomes or action steps associated with the goal of classroom sizes. In fact, the numbers that are associated with the goals within the policy are not supported with citation or explanation of why those hard numbers are there.”
Instead of having class-size goals as part of board policy, Jones and Kimball recommended a comprehensive discussion about class sizes during strategic planning. Any resulting class-size goals would be included in the district’s strategic plan.
For decades, there has been significant debate about the effectiveness of smaller class sizes. The theory holds that the fewer students there are in a class, the more individual attention each student receives and the better they perform. But research shows a less than direct correlation between class size and student performance.
Essentially, studies have shown that large reductions in class size — seven to 10 students, for example — can produce gains in student achievement, particularly at lower grade levels and among economically disadvantaged student populations.
But research also shows that smaller reductions in class size tend to produce negligible gains in performance that generally don’t justify the investment. There is a much stronger correlation between the quality of classroom instruction than class size, meaning district money is almost always better spent on the recruitment and retention of strong classroom teachers than trying to reduce class sizes by more modest amounts.
That isn’t to say that class-size objectives aren’t important. They are, especially to parents.
That’s why Kimball and Jones are right to move away from board policies on class size that effectively are being ignored and to instead seek a frank and open discussion about class size to include in the district’s strategic plan.
The objective should be to set attainable, research-driven class-size goals that can be communicated clearly to parents, measured for outcomes and adjusted as district needs and resources dictate. That’s a far better approach to class size than simply ignoring a 10-year-old board policy.