What Are The Alternatives To Reducing Class Size?

What Can Schools Do When Class Size is Large?. Compassionate Eye Foundation/Jasper White via Getty images

Most parents would love to see their children in schools with small class sizes.  Unfortunately, this is a very expensive way to try to improve schools.  If your school district is like most than the limited funding available needs to be used in the most cost-effective way.  

Perhaps reducing class size is out of reach for your school district.  Limited funding may even mean your district will have to increase class size.

 There are other strategies that school districts across the nation are using to give each student more time and attention. If budget and personnel cuts are on the horizon where you live, look to see if your school board or state Department of Education is considering these alternatives.  If you think one or more is promising for your district, you can always contact policy makers yourself.

1. Computer Aided-Instruction

There are several different approaches that use technology to reach more students.  Some schools use the "flipped" model in which children watch lectures or instruction at home on a tablet or computer, and then do their homework at the school where the classroom teacher helps students who have questions or need extra help understanding the assignment.  In some cases, this can be less expensive than adding teachers and classrooms

Another approach is a hybrid teaching model where students use computer learning modules at school.

 Students who need additional help or a remedial program work in small groups with the teacher during this time.

2. Increased Tutoring

Cross-Age Tutoring, after school tutoring and even district provided tutoring over the summer can help student who are falling behind to catch up and get back on track.

 Tutoring programs can range from homework help that can reach students who are just beginning to struggle, to more targeted programs that test students for gaps in their learning and teach missing skills to individual students.

3. Full Day Kindergarten or Expand Pre-K

Educational research that support reducing class sizes saw the greatest gains for students in kindergarten and first grade.  The students in smaller early grade classes continued to achieve at a higher rate and were more likely to go on to college than students who were not in small classes in the early grades.  

This is presumably because this is when children are learning the foundational skills for reading, writing and math that all of their later learning is based on. These younger grade children are also learning how to behave in school, from how to stand in a line to how to get along with their classmates.  Full day kindergarten and greater access to pre-K programs will also give children a strong start in school.  

The passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act in December of 2015 includes increasing access to pre-K programs and full-day kindergarten nationwide.  Expect to see these programs expand even if your district is not looking for alternatives to class size reduction.

4. More Instructional Time In School

Rather than spend the money to hire more full-time teachers, adding more time to teach is another possibility. Some schools have experimented with longer school days while others have added extra school days on to the school year.  

5. Focus On Better Curricula

Quality materials and curricula are great tools for teachers to have.  Schools that have dated materials or curricula that is difficult for teachers can upgrade to newer, more quality materials.  this is an especially timely solution in the last half of the 2010 decade.  The federal government is requiring all states to have high standards that are as rigorous as the Common Core State Standards.

 Some states have begun using these new standards, while others are still making the switch.  Having quality materials aligned to your state's new set of standards can save teachers hours worth of work on less preparation while providing a great resource for students to use for homework.

If your school purchased materials a few years ago when the Common core was first being rolled out in some places, evaluate how well those materials are working.  Replacing materials can be expensive, but is much less expensive than reducing class size.  

6. Decide Which Classes To Reduce Rather Than Decreasing Size Across The Board

If your district can afford to decrease some classes but not others, than the earlier grades would be the classes most likely to benefit from smaller classes.  Other classes to look for would be those with a high number of vulnerable students, like those who are on IEP's, 504 plans, or classes or schools where students have historically underperformed.  

Reducing the number of students with these students could give the teachers more time to help each student when they are struggling in school.

7. Increased Teacher Pay, Bonuses, and Teacher Recruitment

Hiring more teachers means offering each new teacher a full salary and benefits package, plus providing the classroom space and building support for the class.  Interestingly, several research studies have shown that effective, experienced teachers are able to teach larger classes just as effectively as classes with a reduced size.  

So, instead of hiring more teachers, pay the ones that are already there more money.  Different districts have come up with a variety of ways to reward more experienced teachers.  Bill Gates has suggested offering more experienced teachers bonus pay for teaching larger classes, so that newer teachers who still need to gain experience can teach smaller classes.  

Increasing all teacher pay may also allow a school district to be more selective and hire more qualified, experienced teachers.  These changes to the standard teacher pay formula used will work differently in different areas, depending on the needs and situation of each community.

These strategies are all meant to be used at the district or policy level.  If you have a child who is assigned to a larger size class, there are some different strategies you can use for now.

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