A new study just released by the National Education Policy Center is another resounding put down of the Comenius line. "Does Class Size Matter?" by Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach concludes that "Class size is an important determinant of student outcomes." But that is about as far as it goes. That this conclusion must be repeated over and over in every decade is evidence of the tenacity of the Comeniusites. Indeed, in 1982, my colleagues and I published the first meta-analysis of nearly a century of class size research and concluded that class size matters ... for achievement test scores. The book is apparently available now for about $170 making it almost as rare as a copy of the Gutenberg Bible (don't buy it, incidentally).
I can tell you who cares how big classes are. Teachers. Class size research and the arguments about it are a vestige of Puritanism. Niggling effects of class size reduction are elevated to the highest level of goodness, and the working conditions of teachers are ignored. The difference between a class size of 20 versus a class size of 30 for a high school English teacher is considerable. Lab science teachers who have to set up lessons for 25 students instead of 15 know what a 67% increase in class size means. It means more work, more stress, more time spent before the morning bell rings or after the afternoon bell.
That teachers' workloads are virtually never mentioned in the research on school class size is just amazing. And when the battle is taken to the streets, the tiny achievement benefits trump the large workload increases. What other profession would tolerate being treated this way? Would lawyers accept a 20% or even 15% increase in their workload without compensation? Would surgeons? Would professors? Class size research tells us so much about the power struggles teachers now find themselves caught in. It speaks volumes about the assault on the teaching profession and their unions.
Larry Cuban, because he is an educator, is almost alone in acknowledging that large classes make more work for teachers.