In a recent statement to Congress, Betsy DeVos, the nation’s education chief, made the following statement:
Students may be better served by being in larger classes, if by hiring fewer teachers, a district or state can better compensate those who have demonstrated high ability and outstanding results.
For some teachers, that was a shocking revelation. Not that she wanted to pay teachers more who have “demonstrated high ability and outstanding results,” but that she would even suggest “larger classes” and “fewer teachers.”
I get why teachers want small classes. Trying to understand the academic, social and all-around human needs of dozens of individual children in a class is a daunting task. Bigger classes make their jobs harder, especially if they don’t have the tools and resources they need. So the idea of larger class sizes and fewer teachers is understandably alarming.
I also get why teachers would be dismissive of research that contradicts their world view—they’re the ones in the classroom, right?
But the fact is, shrinking classes doesn’t get us the desired results we all want to see for our students. The only exceptions are for the very early K-3 grades, or when classrooms are reduced dramatically. In fact, since Florida made a class size amendment part of its constitution in 2002, some school districts have been fighting it because it’s simply impractical.
Teachers, on the other hand, have more of an impact on student learning than anything else at school. There’s tons of research to back that up, which is probably why DeVos made the statement she did—that the very best teachers should be paid more to handle more. Spending money on teachers with a proven track record is money well spent!
So let’s keep the big picture in mind and put our finite resources where they’ll have the biggest impact: Paying great teachers more.