Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Isn't Class Size the IDEA of Education?

A quick concept, then I have to bolt.

Isn't the idea of education or having a school to congregate masses into one area so you can efficiently educate the masses? In otherwords, if you can pack 700 people into an auditorium, have one speaker with power point slides, hand outs, etc., you can save a ton of money on teachers and the cost of education would drop?

I only bring it up because I'm sick and tired about hearing from teachers that they have (GASP) "30 students in my class!"

Yeah, so? You can't handle 30 kids?

Or how colleges and the teachers union always brag/cheer for low student teacher ratios. "We have a 8:1 student teacher ratio."

Well then by that logic, wouldn't the ideal educational model be a 1:1 ratio? A teacher per student? If this is the case, then the public teachers union should be all for home schooling. Can't get much of a lower ratio than that.

Now I do know I'm ignoring some things;

1. Back in the 1950's you could have I bet 100 kids in a classroom and the teacher would have been able to educate them just fine. The reason teachers can't do it today, that no matter how skilled they may be, the parents fail to teach their children respect and how to behave. Additionally, with teachers being prohibited from disciplining children (and by discipline, I mean Captain style discipline, like belts, daily beatings, yelling, insulting them, push ups, running, old school drill instructor discipline) they have no fear nor incentive to behave.

2. A class size of 700 you would merely be a lecturer at that point. There is some physical limits where you have to yell or the rooms aren't big enough.

3. Homeschoolers obviously don't make as good as teachers as professionally trained teachers with education degrees...even though their kids score better...but that's not the point! They don't have their license = not good teacher = Bushitler = end of discussion = Obama Ponies.

But in the grand scheme of things as well as from the conceptual idea of education, I can't see why a 100:1 student teacher ratio isn't achievable. I don't see how having more teacher per student would materially benefit a student that is appropriately trained by his parents to not only behave, but to study. A student that pays attention to the lecturer, and let's not forget advances in LCD projectors, books, etc., can just as well be educated if he has 4 peers in the room or 100 if he sets his mind to actually paying attention and studying. Even your Captain is restudying calculus (GASP) WITHOUT A TEACHER!


He's just reading from the book and (the teacher union's worst nightmare) TEACHING HIMSELF!!!


A student teacher ratio of infinity!


But of course the popular fad nowadays is to just throw money at education even though it doesn't work. And the dirty deep down secret is the money's never been meant for the kids.


Alex said...

The only problem I have with homeschooling is that it tends to isolate the children from the real world. They don't get exposure to other cultures, other ways of thinking. And they don't get first-hand experience in the social dynamics of large groups. Of course, some of that would be corrected once they start attending college, but at that point it may be a bit late.

The other problem I have with it is that it tends to encourage religious indoctrination and fanaticism. I'm sure that Tim McVeigh and Zacarias Moussaoui would have been huge fans of homeschooling :) Children who are never exposed to other modes of thought are too easily molded into mini-robots blindly following the dictates of their parents. Public schools tend to mitigate the influence of parents whose beliefs may be massively at odds with the rest of society.

I'm not really sure how to handle the above issues, but I'd like to find a way because I do think homeschooling can also be very positive. One system that might work is mandating that the child attend public school for at least one semester out of every four. Or a full year every third year. Or maybe schools could set up special programs for home-schoolers, where teachers work in concert with parents to set guidelines for the children, and have them attend classes once a week to gage their progress and give them a chance to interact with their peers.

CBMTTek said...

I think the whole push for a lower student to teacher ratio is more about getting some personal attention. It is more about the instructor being able to answer as many student's questions per class period as possible.

Sure, a lecturer with a class body of 700 can provide a class worth of information to a large number of people in a very efficient manner, but what is 10% of the class had questions? Even at 30 seconds per question (that both the Q and the A) you are looking at 35 minutes alone. And, I find it difficult to believe that grade school children will get it on the first try without questions.

Of course, I do not think that reducing the student:teacher ratio to anything below 25 or 30 results in any significant advantages, some exceptions obviously. Anything that requires hands on work is a good example. The last thing I would want is a firearms class to have a 35:1 ratio.

vakeraj said...

Nothing will be fixed until every public school (and university) is privatized and subject to market competition.

Anonymous said...

"Well then by that logic, wouldn't the ideal educational model be a 1:1 ratio? A teacher per student? If this is the case, then the public teachers union should be all for home schooling. Can't get much of a lower ratio than that."

Their goal is to increase the number of teacher's union members per student, not the number of teachers per student. It's a key difference.

Alex, while your point about social isolation is well taken, I think that the social behaviors that kids learn in public schools aren't entirely benign. Sure kids learn some social skills, but they're also forced to hang out with the scum of society at the same time. A kid that drops out of High School addicted to drugs probably would have been better off being homeschooled.

"The other problem I have with it is that it tends to encourage religious indoctrination and fanaticism."

That's the parents, not the homeschooling. I disagree that it's generally better to have public schoolteachers indoctrinating children instead of their parents.

"Children who are never exposed to other modes of thought are too easily molded into mini-robots blindly following the dictates of their parents."

And public schools are different, how? High school kids are basically the same thing, except when they're done you have an army of mini-robots all raised on the propaganda of their teachers instead of having the widely different beliefs that their parents hold. They'll start getting their own opinions in college, but I don't see any advantage in having a State-controlled education system. To be honest, it scares the hell out of me the same way a State-controlled press does, and for exactly the same reasons.

"Sure, a lecturer with a class body of 700 can provide a class worth of information to a large number of people in a very efficient manner, but what is 10% of the class had questions?"

One thing you'll find is that often multiple kids will have the same questions. A class of 30 might have 5 different questions and a class of 300 might have 10. Instead of having 10 teachers answer 5 questions in 10 classes of 30, you can have one teacher answer 10 questions in a class of 300. I just made the numbers up to demonstrate the principle, but you get the idea. The number of questions does not increase linearly with class size, so you get economies of scale even with Q&A.

Anonymous said...

Give each K-12 family the option of the local public school or an 80% voucher of the local cost per student to fund their choice.

This would provide a savings to the state and drive much needed competition and alternatives to public education.

Billy B said...

The only reason we should be for smaller class size is "statistics".

Statistics? Yeah, the statistics that with less kids in a class the chance of one or more being so disruptive to the class that no one learns.

This problem could be easily solved as Capt said - Allow Real Discipline".

Evil Sandmich said...

As a father whose son is home schooled, let me say that I'd rather we didn't have to, but sometimes you don't have a choice. The teacher certifications you speak of would be great, if they meant anything; but unfortunately a cert means that the person was patient enough to sit through a bunch of seminars and classes that featured pie-in-the-sky BS that doesn't work (for generalized subjects, teaching just isn't that friggin' hard). Add to that the fact that, generally, our least capable people go into teaching, generally for a lifetime employment government job. They could give too sheets less about 'education' so long as their over paid selves get their half year off and their government pension after twenty five years. As my dad (who is a teacher) says, those who can do, those who can't teach.

I realize that not everyplace is like northeast Ohio and that good, well run public schools with caring teachers exist, but they're vanishingly few up here, at least if you want to live some place remotely affordable.

As far as culture and interaction and whatnot, home schooling is a true capitalist enterprise - your efforts will succeed or fail on their own merits. My wife is diligent in making sure that our son is in several co-ops where he can go to what are for the most part, regular classes with other students or large group field trips. She also makes sure that his curriculum is well rounded with many different topics outside of the basic set of studies.

On the other hand, I've heard of barely literate inner city parents taking their kids out of public school because they "don't teach enough black history" (something I find rather hard to believe), or red necks who 'home school' because they don't feel like getting up at a set time to take their kids to school. People like that give home schooling a bad name and honest home schoolers are rather fervent in calling people like that out.

As for the 'Tim McVeigh' comment someone else made, that's just flame bait stupid. If you want true criminality you should drive through East Cleveland and see the model citizens our public schools with 'first-hand experience in the social dynamics of large groups' are churning out.

As far as class size itself, I'm sure you can plot on a curve how effective particular sizes are given the mental horsepower of the students being taught and the talents of the instructor. This is generally why colleges can get away with 200-1 ratios for basic classes (if the class is even live) while you're horrible schools with horrible students and worse teachers might be tolerably better with a 4-1 ratio. In any case, the instruction will stop getting better after dropping it to a certain ratio, and it will start degrading faster increasing it too high.

Anonymous said...

While I think your goal of 700 students per class is a bit hyperbolic, especially at lower grade levels, I am skeptical of the drive for lower class sizes. In my kids' school district, it is considered horrible that my son's class has 32 kids. However, the teacher is strict and keeps the class moving forward. I don't see the class size being a hindrance to her or my son. I look back on my class photos from decades ago, and I count about 30 kids per class. I think I had a darn good education. Similarly, my wife is from Europe where the class sizes were about 35+, and she shows no ill effects. Teachers enforced discipline and the kids learned.

Anonymous said...

Ryan Fuller, that's a bit snobbish, don't you think? The rich have their scum, the poor have theirs.

Anonymous said...

"Ryan Fuller, that's a bit snobbish, don't you think? The rich have their scum, the poor have theirs."

I don't think so. I have no problem describing high school drug addicts as the scum of society. Note that I didn't say anything about whether they were rich or poor.

Anonymous said...

You should consider homeschooling if you (speaking generally to all parents), given an honest and intelligent assessment of the local educational options, compared to you and your child's educational goals, think that you might be able to do the best job yourself.
Public school is so bad it hardly qualifies as even a last resort in many places.

The way I see it, there are really only two identifiable stages of child education: elementary school and high school. Or whatever you want to call them; the names aren't as important as the goals. What would be a great achievement is if we had a private schooling system that clearly identified and separated these goals.
At elementary school, the overarching goal ought to be to teach what every adult ought to know at the bare minimum-- the 3 R's for the most part. An elementary certificate should prove that a student is ready for any of the following: admission to a high school, admission to a vocational school, or a minimum-wage job.

High schools ought to be able to require such an elementary certificate and not have to waste time reteaching what should have been learned in elementary school. The most distressing memory I have of high school is of a classmate in my 12th grade "college prep" English class who routinely demonstrated himself to be barely literate. I keep thinking to myself, no wonder our education system is in shambles. We're sending people to college without even taking the time to see if they should have left elementary school.

The overarching goal of high school ought to be to teach what the student needs to know in order to be trusted by the rest of society to responsibly exercise all the common rights and privileges of adults: voting, parenting, legal and financial independence, military service, and so forth. What should not be a point of fussing is whether or not the students go on to college. This is not to say that students who are sure of their plans should not prepare; rather high school should prepare the student for the real world without making any assumptions about higher education. This should in fact produce a better caliber of college student-- one that is an independent adult first.

As for class sizes, one terribly clever way to have most of the economy of having big class sizes and most of the benefits of smaller class sizes would be to pay the older kids to tutor the younger kids-- most of it in the form of credit on their school bills so not much actual money need change hands.

If I had five million dollars and the patience to navigate the legal gobbledygook, I'd get cracking on it.

Anonymous said...


While there is much to agree with in this post, the idea that you need to beat children in order to get them to learn, or listen is the most idiotic thing you have written. It is shamefully stupid. I say this as a white man with a libertarian POV, who grew up in violent, culturally diverse communities. It is probably a good thing you have no children if this is your philosophy.

One consistent, if flawed theme among your posts, is the presupposition that the past there was some "golden age of America" where the problems that existed were minor compared to the problems we have now. It is the one gripe I have with conservatives, who are often sensible on other issues.

The fact is, the methods of "discipline" you advocate are widely practiced in the poor black communities and inner cities to this very day. I've worked in inner city hospitals, and I've worked in wealthier areas. I've seen the differences in how conflict is handled. And it starts at childhood.

Violence is the method that women resort to when they are frustrated that their past mistakes in interacting with children have lead the child to adopt an annoying but effective strategy for getting what he or she wants.

The fact is, adults do not treat other adults that way normally. Hitting other adults is usually a crime (unless the perpetrator has a badge and a costume and is called a "police officer"). You do not hit an employee who does not do what you want. Nor do you hit a spouse who fails to meet expectations (of course, this is not efficiently imposed on women, but that is another issue). In what way does hitting a child teach them how to interact in "the real world?"

Captain Capitalism said...

You don't pick up on sarcasm do you?