Tuesday, August 07, 2007

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.


Anonymous said...

My kids have yet to experience gifted classes. Our district only clusters 4-8 gifted students within a class of 30 students. Last year, only one fourth grader was identified as gifted. So he was a "cluster" of one in his class.

Angie said...

I've taught a class of 7, then 8 gifted 4th grade students in a public school situation (every day, every subject) for one year. The next year at the same school, I taught 12 4th & 5th grade students. All the students were in the moderately gifted range but with a wide range of skills and abilities.

My experience is that seven or eight students just wasn't enough to create flexible grouping for activities and projects. When I had 12 students, my choices for arrangements increased, I could incorporate more and different activities. I didn't feel that I had loss any personal time with 12 gifted students, they got increased attention from their peers in the class.

However, more than 12 students would be very stressful for me to handle without some additional differentiation and classroom management training.

Just my experience....

Anonymous said...

In Chapel Hill, NC, they have a creative way to claim clustering of gifted students and yet manage to completely avoid any effective clustering for improved instruction of gifted children. The trick? Enlarge the definition of who is gifted (e.g., any student testing in the top 3-5 percentile; any test will do) so that it includes about a third of the children then set the cluster size to be about a third of the size of the classroom. Presto! No change in the distribution of children and lots of parents who think they have smart kids. Better than Lake Wobegon.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting to see the Times article dance around why IQ is so non-PC. The best they could do was state that African Americans as a group repeatedly have had an IQ about 1 standard deviation below that of European Americans. They leave that statement leading into a conclusion by some that the tests are biased and completely omit mention of any explanation of what might cause that difference is the tests are not biased. The most obvious alternative possibility is just not acceptable for discussion among polite company.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure what to make of this - My Gifted classes of 6-8 graders range from 32 - 35 in each class! I'm open to any helpful hints!

robin said...

Dear "I'm not sure what to make of this - My Gifted classes of 6-8 graders range from 32 - 35 in each class! I'm open to any helpful hints!"

Wow - that's a lot of kids in one classroom.
here are some helpful ideas -
1) recruit adult volunteers - parents or local busness people or retirees or high school teachers to work with small groups or individual kids on a weekly basis.
2) Check out Davidson's educator's guild for help finding programs and curriculum http://www.educatorsguild.org/
3) If you have these kids all day, see if you can get them out of your classroom and into high school or local community college classes.
4) If you just have them for a few hours a week, try to get them started on independent or small group study or computer distance classes that they can do within their regular classrooms with their "extra" time, that you have won for them by teaching/urging the regular teacher to do pretesting and curriculum compacting.
5) Head back to the Educator's Guild for some community! No teacher of gifted kids should be left alone.
6) Check with your State Department of Education Gifted Coordinator. That person may have wonderful information for you.

Best Wishes,