Imagine a high school where teachers barely know their students’ names. In this school, a lack of teachers has led to unwieldy classroom sizes where no individualized interaction occurs, and where some students slip between the cracks and are led down a path towards failure without teachers even noticing. Thankfully, this fictional high school is not Staples, but with population increase and budget decline, this fantasy becomes more possible each year.
“I should be able to provide students at Staples with the best education possible, yet every year increased class size causes us to offer less and less,” said Staples Principal John Dodig. He added that the standards of class size have changed dramatically through his employment at this school.
“Eight years ago the average that we were aiming for was 20 kids for an A-level class and 14 for a B-level classes,” Dodig stated. He said that more teachers are necessary in a B level class because the students are generally more challenged by the material and can use greater personalized attention.
However, according to Dodig these targets have changed significantly over his eight years at staples. Now, the goal is to have 25 students in an A-level course and 20 in a B-level course.
Even more extreme is the deviation from the ideal class size in AP courses. The College Board’s recommended class size is 18 students, yet Dodig said that many AP courses at Staples consistently hold an average of 26-30 pupils.
Multiple studies have been conducted that document the benefits of smaller classroom sizes.
“Small classes are more engaging places for students because they’re able to have a more personal connection with teachers, simply by virtue of the fact that there are fewer kids in the classroom competing for that teacher’s attention,” said Adam Gamoran of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who analyzed data from the Unites States, Hong Kong, Switzerland and England about class room size and its impact.
Carol Avery, a Social Studies teacher at Staples, has had AP classes that ranged in size from 19 to 27 students. She feels that 25 students in an AP course is far from ideal.
“You’d be amazed. Just having ten more people is like night and day. It becomes much more unmanageable,” said Avery. She stated that in such a class she is not able to give nearly as much individualized attention to students and this increased number of individuals can make it much harder to keep the class focused.
Andrew Strauss, a Science teacher who has taught at Staples for over 40 years, can attest to the dysfunction that can arise from a large class. Many years ago the class size of his AP Chemistry course was so large that not all students could participate in the lab at the same time due to lack of space and materials, necessitating that some students come in early to perform labs.
“It wasn’t an ideal situation for anyone,” he stated. “No one wants to come to school early.”
As class size continues to increase, unfortunate situations like this will likely become more and more common as teachers turn to such solutions to continue teaching large classes as effectively as possible.
When teachers are faced with overwhelming class sizes there are repercussions for both them and their students. “There is a big difference for teachers in grading 100 papers vs. grading 80 papers. What this means is that is over time the quality of the instruction is diminished, as teachers are forced to give easier assignments that require less grading,” Dodig said.
Eric Lombardo ’13 feels that as classes get larger the learning environment gets less effective.
“My Italian 2 class last year ran about 30 kids and it felt more like a lecture. Ms. Noonan handled it really well by keeping us busy, but it was easy to get distracted with so many kids,” said Lombardo.
He stated that the class became so large because last school year there was increased interest in this course, but no additional sections were added to accommodate for the popularity.
Dodig stated that over the last few decades a teacher’s role has transitioned to being more of a “coach” than a “lecturer.” Being more of a “coach” requires smaller sized classes so teachers can provide personalized attention.
“The ideal size allows me to deal with student’s individual problems,” Strauss agreed.
Small class sizes also allow a strong group mentality to form in a class. Robert Perry ’12 had the unique experience of being in one of the smallest classes at Staples this year; he is one of eight students in AP Spanish Literature.
“I think [the size] has helped us as a class to work more as a team, since it is really just one small group,” he said.
While teachers and Dodig both agree that the growing population size will require more teachers and sections, the budget is unable to keep up with this growth. Over the years that Dodig has been the principal at Staples, the student populace has grown from 1,400 to 1,800 students. However, while the year before the recession of 2008 the budget increased by 8.35%, the proposed 2012/2013 budget only increases by 2.5%, greatly affecting Staples’ ability to hire new teachers and create new sections of classes.
“A parent recently asked me who made the decision to put their student in a French class with 30 children. I said that I made that decision, because we only had one teacher – there was no choice with the current budget,” Dodig said.
Despite the restriction that the budget provides, Dodig said that preventing large class size is top priority when allocating the budget, and therefore purchases of expensive physical items and non-teaching staff have been cut before teachers have been.
Whether it’s the size of the stack of papers that are awaiting grades, the amount of time devoted to each individual during class, or the ability for each student to participate in class discussions, an increase in class size will be harmful to the Staples community.
“The smaller the actual class size, the more effective, and the better it is for you,” said Strauss.