One good thing about my school is their constant desire to see research. One bad thing about my school is their constant desire to see research.
The way this has played out in my classroom this year is in class size. I teach 5th and 6th grade science and social studies in four 80 minute sections. 3 out of the 4 classes are 6th grade classrooms averaging about 22 students. My last class of the day is my homeroom with 28 students; three 5th graders are looping with the 6th graders. Each class is markedly different in personality, maturity, and needs; however, it seems like nothing goes right in my 5th grade classroom compared to my 6th grade classes. Yes, the 6th graders have had a year with 3 awesome teachers, are more mature, and more committed to success, but the 5th graders are historically a “higher” performing class, even with 5 students with IEPs. So, why are they behavior, motivation, attendance, and performance issue this year across the board?
Research has shown that class sizes doesn’t matter with a quality teacher in the room, except in K-3 classes. Even the secretary of education said:
“If you can shrink class size to get those students off to a good start in life and have them reading on grade level in third- and fourth- and fifth-grade, then you’ve set them up to be successful,” he said. (http://www.schoolbook.org/2012/10/23/duncan-emphasizes-teacher-quality-over-class-sizes/)
Of course, the kicker in all of this research is just as the secretary hinted at- if students are on grade level, they can be successful with a qualified teacher in a large classroom.
But what if they are years behind?
My 6th grade students are behind, but in smaller classes, they are surging ahead. I’m so proud of the progress they’ve made in critical thinking, personal responsibility, and drive. My 5th graders are slipping further and further behind in a large class because of continuing behavior issues. Every precious moment wasted in my classroom telling students not to kick one another beneath the desk pods (since that’s the only way I can have that many desks in my room) is a minute we aren’t having the same class discussions I can have the other 75% of my day.
I know I’m not the “highly qualified” super-champion teacher I need to be for my 5th graders yet. But seeing really awesome teachers also struggle with my homeroom makes me wonder if anyone is the super-champion teacher they need with that many students. I fear we are actively widening the achievement gap by continuing to have such a large class.
And I got a new 5th grader today.