Class sizes have no effect in student learning

 In Letters, Opinion

Hey, Yael coming at you from the classroom. This might be my feeble Ontario education talking, but I am utterly dismayed that someone would use fear mongering instead of calm deliberation to try and make her point. Repeatedly Ms. Jackson tells us, “I’m scared.” Really? (Re: April 5 Letter to the Editor.)
Can someone please tell me where the notion of classroom sizes being pushed up to 42 students came from? In articles from CTV News, CBC, and The Globe and Mail, the consensus is that the classes increase from 22 to 28 students. I have on my own realized I must source my information. Here’s a fact, Dr. Nina Bascia from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, led a study on the effect of class sizes on students. She proved there was no difference in the learning capabilities of children from varied class sizes. CBC issued an article, which interviewed former teacher Paul Bennett, who agreed class sizes have no effect in student learning, saying “But the massive reductions in class size from 2003 to the present haven’t really produced the gains in student achievement that most had hoped.” Bennett cited a 2012 report by former TD Bank chief economist Don Drummond, which pulled data from several educational research studies measuring the positive and negative impact of class size. It found that 72 per cent of results showed that class size wasn’t a significant factor, writing, “small class sizes are not a key determinant of educational outcomes.”
Holy mackerel, Ms. Jackson is scared of online teachers not being qualified, she is scared of students not being disciplined enough to learn online and scared about students not being able to afford computers and on and on. What is she suggesting here, a system with absolutely no oversight? The truth of the matter is there will arise special needs in every system and accommodations made for them.
A 2018 Globe and Mail article shows that Grade 8 math scores have improved over a six-year period except for Ontario. This same article also states decreasing literacy skills in Ontario. Something has to change. Going back to basics sounds like a reasonable option. All my math teachers insist everyone should pay for a tutor since math is “so hard.” Guess what, not everyone can afford tutors. Hey, I don’t know, but maybe teachers can do their jobs and adequately teach their students without always saying, “Get a tutor.” I mean, it’s your job!
For 15 years, a Liberal Ontario government has caved to the funding and salary demands of the teachers’ union in exchange for that union buying expensive ads aligning with that government’s agenda.
Doesn’t this recent provincial election represent the grade that taxpayers have given teachers for the way their money has been spent? And what did their lobbying activity lead to? From first hand experience I can say the classroom is not an open forum for discussion. There are plenty of political discussions in class but they are slanted. Real opinion or thought diversity is not allowed. If a teacher says something, kids are not equipped or taught to question it. “All in all, you’re just another brick in the wall.” Ontario teachers have successfully concealed from my generation the need to pursue truth. It amounts to indoctrination of children into their ideology. Case in point, letting children walk out of class as long as they protest for the teacher’s agenda. It was sickening to see children used as tools for propagandizing. I have not met anybody around this area that doesn’t think that teachers are more than adequately compensated for the job they do. Surely teachers have an inkling of one significant reason why the parents of the children they currently teach cede to their every demand. Don’t you think when you hold the academic destiny of us children in your hands it is exploitative to tell our parents to come out and protest for you? “Hey, teacher! Leave them kids alone.”
Yael Inglis,

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  • Laurie May

    Hello Yael:

    As a retired classroom teacher, I feel it necessary to submit a counter-argument to your letter posted above.

    In reference to class size, you mention a 2012 report that concludes “small class sizes are not a key determinant of educational outcomes”.

    There have been so many changes to the classroom in the past few years. As I began to write my rebuttal to you, I received a Facebook notification from a fellow teacher (Cassandra Webber) and she outlined perfectly all of the points that I wanted to make. She has made some excellent observations that explain why smaller class sizes are so important in 2019. I have copied her post below:

    1. Back when you and I were in school, there wasn’t integration. We had schools or separate classrooms for students with special needs. Deaf schools, blind schools, behaviour classrooms, and spec Ed classrooms for students with severe learning disabilities. Now, they are integrated into the classrooms with IEP’s and a teacher is expected to address their learning when many of them have a different curriculum or require supports that are challenging to meet in a typical classroom. It’s not unusual to have multiple IEP’s, all with different goals.

    2. Back in our day, you failed a grade when you couldn’t meet the grade level expectations. Not anymore. Now we are forced to push them through with IEP’s. So teachers might have students in grade 8 reading at a grade 3 level and yet we must try to meet their needs as well as all the others in the classroom.

    3. Erosion of the home/school connection. When I was in school, I didn’t fear my teachers discipline nearly as much as the repercussions at home if my dad found out I was naughty. That punishment was far worse than anything the school could dish out! Now, when we try to bring a parent on board regarding behavioural or even learning problems, we often get blame-shifting and excuses. We are often blamed and accused of picking on their child. The number of times a student has defiantly said to me, “go ahead, call home – they won’t care!” And sure enough – the parent would tell me it was my problem not hers.

    4. The curriculum has changed dramatically since our school days. The majority of the day consisted of rote learning. Read, memorize and regurgitate. We’d start page 1 of a workbook and compete X number of pages by the end of the year. Students all read out of the same book. What we are now expected to cover in a year is far more, in detail and in scope. For example, today’s grade 7 math curriculum covers many things that used to be in the grade 9 curriculum. That affects all the other grades as they must cover the building blocks that’s required so they can learn that level of math.

    5. Mental health issues. I can only suggest theories of why, but the mental health issues the students come to us with are mind boggling. The anxiety and depression alone – not to mention the students with more specific psychiatric issues – have multiplied to levels never seen before. Teachers are expected to teach with these challenges in mind.

    6. Expectations: I don’t know if you still have your old report cards but mine say “Cassandra is a bright student! Keep up the good work!” Or “Cassandra is doing well but not working to her full potential”. Nowadays, we assess, record and report on specific achievements, suggest next steps…and in order to write these little essays about each student, we need proof to back up what we say. When I taught grade 1, it took me approximately 40 hours to complete a class set of 20…and that’s just the report card. I had to ensure I had all the assessments and evaluations to support it.

    7. Violence: I’ve been punched, bitten and kicked this year – and I teach music to little kids! It’s all fun and games – I’m so much fun, the kids don’t even know they’re learning! Imagine if I was having to actually challenge these struggling kids with math and reading! I don’t remember ever seeing a child strike a teacher when I was in school. I actually have to wear Kevlar protection in one of my rooms. Do you remember any of your teachers needing Kevlar? Did our teachers need to learn self defence techniques that would protect them and ensure the attacking child wasn’t hurt?

    The demands and expectations have changed.

    Yael, I hope you will consider the factors mentioned above and develop a more realistic and positive view of the role of the classroom teacher. I have had the privilege of working with many excellent teachers – teachers who allow diversity, adequately teach their students (without suggesting tutors), and do not exploit their students by using them as “tools for propagandizing”.

    I am honoured and proud to have been a member of the teaching profession. I assure you that teachers deserve every bit of compensation that they receive – and,- by the way, that compensation is not always entirely monetary. Also, as a profession that holds “the destiny of children in our hands”, that destiny is not merely academic.

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