Imagine you’re in your English class and don’t fully grasp your teacher’s lecture. All you have to do is ask your teacher to pause for a bit, but now imagine there’s 36 other students in your class. A good chunk of them understand the lecture and are impatient to move on, but another portion of them are just as confused as you and the rest aren’t even paying attention. There’s one teacher and 37 unsatisfied students.
This is the reality of large class sizes.
Many classes in Fountain Valley High School face similar dilemmas. The Huntington Beach Union High School District DEA Contract states teachers can have no more than 37 students per class and 185 students total in all subject areas, with the exception of performing arts, special education and physical education. Generally speaking, the core subject classes have the largest class sizes, while sixth period and elective classes tend to be the smallest at FVHS.
Large class sizes do not foster an adequate educational environment for teachers and students alike. Teaching and learning are difficult when there are too many students for one teacher. Smaller class sizes are advantageous for several reasons and create a happier, cohesive environment for everyone involved.
A small pupil-teacher ratio allows for greater student success in many areas. With less students, the class is more organized and a teacher can effectively teach. Small class sizes also have more one-on-one time, which in turn gives teachers a greater understanding of their students’ needs and capabilities. Because there are fewer students to manage, teachers also have more time to help their students reach their full potential.
Many studies confirm students in small class sizes outperformed students in large classes. Project STAR was a large scale class size study conducted in Tennessee between 1985 and 1989. The research included over 1,200 teachers and almost 12,000 students. Students and teachers were randomly assigned to three different classes: “small” (13 to 17 students), “regular” with no aide (22 to 25 students) and “regular” with an aide (22 to 25 students). The results from standardized and curriculum testing concluded students in small classes had “substantial improvement in early learning and cognitive skills.”
Not only do small class sizes promote individualized instruction time, they also create an engaging environment. It’s hard for a student to be under the spotlight when 37 pairs of eyes are staring at them. Small classes encourage participation, and students can’t get away with hiding in the back. More participation in turn builds students’ confidence, as well as tolerance for others’ ideas because they are constantly exposed to the differing thoughts of those around them.
Small classes make students more comfortable to participate, thus developing students’ social skills that are valuable in modern society. For example, shy students are more likely to involve themselves in small groups. As the school year progresses, they gradually become comfortable with their peers, are more willing to take risks and easily communicate with others. Strong social skills are applicable in many situations, from project planning for a company to networking in college.
Furthermore, a class that is connected with each other functions as a cohesive unit. Students in large classes cannot establish strong relationships with each other because there are simply too many students, and that also translates to a greater variation of each students’ skills. In small classes, students are closer with each other, and teachers can assist each student to get them on track. This explains why small classes easily function as a whole; they are able to cover more material in a faster amount of time compared to large classes.
Although a tremendous amount of research concludes students in small classes outperform their counterparts in large classes, much of the research is based on elementary and minority students.
According to the National Council of Teachers of English, smaller class sizes do not have significant impact on the academic performance high school students. Due to the lack of research including middle and high school students, class size reduction is not a priority in secondary schooling. Since we know essentially nothing about the effects of class sizes in high school, that’s all the more reason to start studying the high school population and come to a conclusion after there is more data available for examination.
Class size reduction is also not popular in public schools because of the entailing financial costs. School districts would have to spend more money to hire teachers and buy resources when class sizes are reduced. It’s cheaper to have large class sizes, but the benefits outweigh the costs. Regardless of finances, education should always be a priority. What we invest in our students now can only profit our country more since students with the best education grow to be the people making the most revenue.
Despite the arguments against small class sizes and class size reduction, it’s clear that learning and teaching are compromised for all grade levels when there are too many students. There should be more effort to bring down the maximum number of students per class in the HBUHSD so that students can reap the benefits of small class sizes. Today’s students are the future, and it is necessary to invest in them and provide them with the best education possible.
Read what FVHS students have to say about class sizes here.