“…class-size reduction programs in California and elsewhere – especially Florida – look foolish.”

So says Justin Snider from the Hechinger Report in a guest post at the Washington Post’s Answer Sheet.

I find these kinds of pieces very irritating for a number of reasons (and I am also trying hard to not let my unhappiness with Hechinger’s financing of the research for the LA Times research on “value-added” teacher assessments get in the way of looking at his piece relatively objectively. The Times used it for their insulting series making teacher “scores” public).

First, I wish all “school reformers” who live in academia would read Corey Bower’s post “First Day Of School: Where Are You?” Corey is a former K-12 teacher who now is at a university and writes:

And yet, I now find myself up in the ivory tower consorting with others who regularly cast stones at the lowly teachers…. And you know what? Most of them couldn’t hack it in the classroom either.

Mr. Snider teaches writing at Columbia University, and says he was a former high school English teacher. I did a little research and, though I couldn’t find out how long he taught in a high school or where he taught, I did find that he was a course examiner for the International Baccalaureate program. I assume that means he taught IB classes.

Well, I have a large IB class, and it works quite well. Of course, these are just about the most motivated and disciplined students you’re going to find anywhere.

I’m very confident in my ability as a teacher. But if you gave me the same number of students for my mainstream ninth-grade English class in an urban school, I’d go nuts (and I don’t think it would be a great experience for the students, either). I can’t imagine what it would be like with first-graders.

Finally, I know some say the research questioning class size’s role on academic achievement is very convincing, but when I googled “research on class size” I found most of the research to be pretty positive. It would also be important to note education researcher Corey Bower’s observation on class size research:

I think one of the problems with class size research is that there isn’t a whole lot of variation in class size across most schools, or after implementing most policies. Let’s say a district decreased class size from 26 to 24 — would we expect a huge, and easily measurable difference? Probably not. And yet researchers are trying to quantify these differences and finding out that there’s not much there. If, on the other hand, we reduce class sizes from 25 to 15, we would expect differences to appear. The Tennessee STAR study remains the most rigorous evaluation of large differences in class size and found large, positive effects of changes of this magnitude.

So, what do you think? Does class size matter? Or do you agree with Mr. Snider that it’s “a luxury…we can no longer afford”?

(The tragic loss of reduced class size is the title of an Op-Ed piece in the San Francisco Chronicle by Delaine Eastin, former California superintendent of public instruction)