Class Size and Gifted Education
It's one of the sacred doctrines of education that smaller class sizes equal better classes. School improvement efforts often focus on lowering teacher-to-pupil ratios, and teachers unions, which have their own economic reasons for supporting such efforts, constantly lobby for smaller classes as well. There's some evidence to support smaller classes; a long-term Tennessee study (discussed on this NEA page) found that students enrolled in smaller classes from an early age are more likely to finish high school on time than those in larger classes (72% vs. 66%). However, the results aren't overwhelming, and achieving the NEA's target of 15 students to 1 teacher would require massive new expenditures (since current rates are often in the 20's or higher). While it makes intuitive sense that when students receive more attention they do better, there's much to be said for teacher quality as well. Some of my most informative classes in college were held in 200-person lecture halls. And some top-performing Asian countries maintain class sizes in the 40's. You can read more about issues with the Tennessee study and the class size argument on the Ed Reform website here.
Anyway, that's the background story on class size, which is what came to mind when I read about a controversy in San Diego about class sizes in gifted education. Apparently the so-called "Seminar" classes in the San Diego Unified School District, which are aimed at students in the 99.6-99.9th percentile on achievement tests, once had a pupil-teacher ratio of 20-1. Due to some funding issues, and a desire to expand the program to cover all students who qualify, the schools now want to expand this to 25-1.
I never like to see gifted education subject to reduced funding levels, but my first thought, reading this story, is that there's no point identifying students as gifted if you're not going to serve them. If the ratio needs to go up in order to serve the gifted population with the available resources, then that's what needs to happen. Those worried about the ratio could better spend their time evaluating teacher quality, as a top notch teacher with 25 students will beat a mediocre one with 20 any day.
That said, the range of readiness levels between gifted kids can be as large as the range in a general classroom, and gifted kids do have special needs. Special education classes usually have lower pupil to teacher ratios because these children require more one-on-one time. I'm curious if parents on this board have experienced larger and smaller gifted classes, and what the difference has been.