Should class size depend on teacher effectiveness?

iStock_000019142594XSmallImagine teachers protesting that they don’t have enough students in their classes or parents complaining that their children are in small classes.

A new report by the Thomas Fordham Institute proposes a “class-size-shifting strategy”where the most effective teachers have larger class sizes, the less effective teachers smaller class sizes. (Right-sizing the Classroom: Making the Most of Great Teachers).

While a potential public relations minefield for administrators, allocating students to teachers based on effectiveness results in improvements in student learning, according to the report. The effects were  relatively modest for 5th graders, but more robust for 8th graders.

“Moving a handful of students to the most effective eighth-grade teachers is comparable to the gains we’d see by removing the lowest 5 percent of teachers. And that is without actually removing them, “ the study says.

The rationale for assigning students to less effective teachers is that smaller class sizes make some of them more effective , according to the report.

“Given district aversion to assigning students in this way, we were forced to ‘simulate’ such assignment using actual data from one state (North Carolina),” states the foreword.

Michael Hansen, a senior researcher at the American Institutes for Research, simulated the reallocation of some students using 3 years of data from North Carolina for past value-added measures. For the 4th year, he estimated how teachers actually performed and what the impact would have been if students had been allocated to the most effective teachers.

“Right-sizing the Classroom: Making the Most of Great Teachers,” Thomas Fordham Institute, November 2013. http://www.edexcellence.net/publications/right-sizing-the-classroom-making-the-most-of-great-teachers

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