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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Kids don't go in the trunk: Plan for good teaching by reducing class sizes!



Spring Break is upon us! We're planning how to fit 12 people and lots of luggage into the automobiles and the discussion of the trunk monkey came up. We all want to ride together, but I proclaimed,
"But the kids aren't trunk monkeys! They all need seatbelts."
What is a Trunk Monkey?

The hilarious Trunk Monkey videos were originally cut for the Superbowl in 2003 and 2004 for the Suburban auto group. (I love the Trunk monkey bridge video.)

So, the monkey sits in the trunk just waiting to protect the car from robbers and vandals!

But kids don't belong there!

Seatbelts limit the number of passengers in cars


Planning to put children in vehicles is easy. There are a set number of seatbelts and you cannot legally put any more in the car than that.

The old days of "stuff the VW bug" just don't apply any more, we can only fit a certain number of kids in a vehicle.

Classrooms don't have seatbelts...but they should

Then we have the classroom.

I have two computer science classes with practically the same content. Until December I had 20 in one class and 14 in the other.

The class average using the same tests and material was about 4 points higher in the class with less students
. The smaller class was learning the material better.

I also found myself looking forward to the smaller class but sometimes dreading the larger one. I chastized myself and got angry at myself, but that nagging feeling in the back of my mind was still there. I liked the smaller class better.


Then, I had several students drop out of the larger class as they moved to other towns and I now have 17 in one class and 14 in the other. The grades are now relatively even. That nagging feeling is gone. I look forward equally to both classes!

Classrooms should have "sanity" belts

Now, I can handle more kids and have taught 21 kids in my computer classroom with 21 computers (including mine and the demonstration computer.) I've taught adult classes with 50 adults and an aid. A good teacher can deal with larger classes, but don't think that something isn't sacrificed in the process!

I have friends who teach 30 kids per class day in and day out. Some teach more. They are much better paid than I, but struggle with the quality of their teaching and time in the classroom. They live with that nagging feeling of dread.

When the class is overfull, who gets put in the trunk?

I say all of this to state that when you fill a car to past capacity, some child is going to have to ride on the floorboard or even worse .. in the trunk. Some child will be unprotected and uncared for.

Some child in the overfull classroom, usually the one with a learning disability or the introvert, is going to be left out!


Smaller Class Sizes are Important!

The easiest way to have an excellent education for kids is to have a smaller class size with a good teacher and a good curriculum. We've pinched pennies in the wrong places in many schools.

There are great teachers out there. Many of them are just hidden by the exhaustion and fatigue of classes that are too large.

There are real children behind the numbers!

There is a great quality and richness that emerges from a class where you can have quality time with each student.

With a history in business, I know that there are cost factors to consider and overhead and ....

However, as one writes financial models and looks at budgets and what will happen to the bottom line if class sizes go from "18.3 children per teacher" to "21.6" you must not forget that there are very real children and very real teachers behind those numbers. The secret to a good education also lies behind those numbers.

I believe that every child deserves a good education with engaged, excited teachers. If you want to zap the excitement out of somebody, put them in a classroom with too many kids!

In conclusion

Class size is so important and cannot be underestimated.
One reason I think the school where I work has had such phenomenal success with average every day kids is that we have a student to teacher ratio of 15:1. No class is more than 20 students at this time and that is the way we've determined it will stay.

We've played with numbers in the past and have learned that the best educations happen in smaller class sizes...

Likewise, my children will be snug and safe in their seatbelts this weekend. It would be wrong beyond measure to put them in the trunk!

Perhaps I've oversimplified. However, I feel very strongly about the importance of a smaller class size in education. I do not know the "magic number," I do know from experience that I am a better teacher when my circumstances help me be a better teacher. I am fortunate in that my current administration knows this.

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