A Sure-Fire Way to Spur Education Reform

Stick everyone who could make education reform happen, who is blocking education reform, or who isn’t interested in improving education in a classroom with 30 or more eighth graders. It would make waves. Of course this idea came to me as I started teaching again this school year. I have two classes with more than 30 students, and one happens to be eighth grade.

I’ve been thinking a lot about learning environments recently, and specifically how learning is significantly imperiled by each additional student you add to a class after 15. In my experience, 15 students is a golden number. Fifteen students is just enough to create some diversity of opinion, but not so big that students can easily hide from participating.

Before I started teaching in Paraguay, I was aware of the class-size discussion. Student to teacher ratio was something my parents sometimes discussed. It was something I was told to look at when picking a university. A low ratio of students to faculty members was something I touted when I helped recruit for my college. But, now that I’ve taught myself, I have a better understanding of why it is important to keep a balance between teachers and students.

Here are some of the differences between my classes that have around 15 students and my classes of around 30 students:

Around 15 Students

Around 30 Students

We finished all the planned activities in the allotted time.

We finish about three-quarters of the planned activities and go over time.

Students listen to the directions and ask questions when the don’t understand.

Students chat in groups and don’t bother to say if they understood the directions or not.

There is time to talk to each student individually and answer their questions, offer encouragement, and provide feedback.

Time is spent trying to maintain a semi-focused work environment and only very disruptive students and students who approach the teacher get a fair allotment of the teacher’s attention.

There are a lot of elements that go into making an environment optimal for learning. There are a lot of factors that make a teacher effective or ineffective. But, the short and long of it is that if the structure of the classroom itself is set up to falter, even the greatest teachers and the most studious students are at a disadvantage. I’m not saying that all students who are part of a large class aren’t learning. I’m saying that they deserve better. Ensuring that classes are an optimal size shouldn’t be debated. It should be an integral part of education infrastructure no matter where a kid goes to school.