Teachers Weighing in on Class Size Say Over 20 is Usually Too Big

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"There is a point at which small class sizes do not produce better outcomes. They produce worse outcomes," says author Malcolm Gladwell about teaching teenagers. New York City teachers, many of them facing classes of more than 30 teens, almost unanimously disagreed in this Columbus Day call-in segment on The Brian Lehrer Show.

Jenni S. from Bronx middle school said she wondered why there was energy expended on the distinction between 16 and 20 students "while the really important issue is between the ideal size of 18 to 20 and the actual sizes in NYC schools of 30 to 34. Well-off students in private schools, who have educated parents and access to an unlimited supply of $160-an-hour tutors, are in classes of 16, whereas our most educationally needy students have to scramble for attention in classes that are double the size," she wrote.

Arthur Goldstein, a high school teacher and SchoolBook contributor, said there is a big difference between class sizes of 34 and class sizes of 25 or fewer.

"Kids are unpredictable, and kids need attention. In smaller classes, you can give them the attention they need. You can allow them to express themselves and you don't have to make them be quiet so that others get a chance to speak. It is not our job to simply make kids memorize information and regurgitate it on multiple choice tests, but rather to encourage their participation in classes and society."

Jane from Brooklyn said she teaches high school in Brooklyn. She concedes a too-small class can present problems, like getting hijacked by a single strong personality.

"A class needs to be large enough to provide different personalities and learning levels, and in high school it can help overcome the embarrassment factor. Also peer disapproval of disruptive behavior is more likely to manifest. Too large a class, however, means an increased chance of having several disruptive students, lack of attention on the part of those who are susceptible to distraction, and more opportunities to hide for students who don't want to reveal their lack of understanding, don't wish to work, or have personal difficulties that are preventing their learning progress."

Susanna wrote to say she teaches five class a day, with 34 students in each class. "That means I teach 170 teenagers a day. Although I try my best, there is absolutely no way I can give those 170 students the attention they need on a daily basis."