What is OCS (Optimum Class Size) and is there a magic number?

OCS stands for Optimum Class Size

See Irving Flinker’s “Optimum Class Size: What Is the Magic Number?”

OECD Education Today has a good writeup summing up the matter of class size impact upon student academic achievement in view of its good grasp on comparative class-size and achievement statistics of OECD nations.

“Smaller classes are favored by parents and teachers alike. But they come at a price, countries can spend their money only once and money spent on smaller classes can’t be spent on better teacher salaries, more instruction time, better opportunities for the professional development of teachers…

Between 2000 and 2009, many countries invested additional resources to decrease class size; however, student performance has improved in only a few of them.

Apart from optimising public resources, reducing class size to increase student achievement is an approach that has been tried, debated, and analysed for several decades. Some countries like Finland favour smaller class sizes (20 students of fewer) and are among the most successful countries in the PISA study. However, other countries like Korea have much bigger classes (34 students and over) but also feature at the top of the PISA ranking. What other variables than class size may explain the success of countries like Korea?

Findings from the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) suggest that systems prioritising higher teacher salaries over smaller classes tend to perform better, which confirms research showing that raising teacher quality is a more effective measure to improve student outcomes.”

Ehrenberg (et al.)’s “Class size and student achievement” also concludes that reducing the class size in itself does not necessarily produce increased student academic achievement and that the factors are complex.

Class size: What is the best fit? (National Institute for Early Education Research):

What We Know:
• Class size reduction is a policy that can
increase educational effectiveness.
• Small class size and better staff-child ratios
offer health and safety benefits.

Education; Is There an Optimum Class Size for Teaching? (April 6, 1988)

Some teachers can stand before 100 juvenile delinquents and command such attention that the scratch of a pen would draw stares of reproach. Other teachers are overwhelmed by a handful of honor students.

But for most teachers, just how many students should there be in a class for them to work effectively?

At least 18 states, feeling their teachers were overburdened, have already moved to reduce their public schools’ average class size.

Then, last week, the Federal Department of Education said such moves appeared to be a waste of effort and money.

In a report, ”Class Size and Public Policy: Politics and Panaceas,” the department said that reducing class size was a ”very costly ‘reform’ that is unlikely to have tangible benefits for student achievement.” It argued that the median number of schoolchildren in an American elementary classroom had steadily declined from 30 in 1961 to 24 in 1986 without yielding significant gains in standardized measures of achievement. Critical View on Outlays

”Rather than sink vast sums into an inefficient and unreliable method of school improvement,” said the report, written by Tommy M. Tomlinson, a researcher, ”available resources should instead be directed to improving the quality of instruction and teachers’ ability to manage the demands of classrooms as they are currently configured.”

Several educators question some of the report’s premises and findings, maintaining that it skates over many of the subtleties of a complex subject.

There is no optimal class size, they suggest. The critics say experience has shown that smaller classes do make a difference with certain groups of students. Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond, an educational expert at the Rand Corporation, says smaller classes help pupils in primary grades, low achievers and students from low-income or ethnic minority families. For these children, she said, ”decreases in class size to about 22 and below do consistently result in gains in achievement.” Difference in Effectiveness

”Kids who are older, kids who are ready to deal with material that’s being dished out, can probably learn reasonably well with a standard lecture and seat work approach in a large class,” she said. ”But it is not an effective way to teach young children and children who are having learning difficulties.”

”There is a growing body of evidence that kids needs to be talked to less and engaged more,” adds Stanley Litow, director of the Educational Priorities Panel, a civic group that monitors New York City’s schools. ”If what you want to do is increase interaction and draw kids into a process of learning, then you’ve got to have smaller classes.”

Dr. Darling-Hammond acknowledges that school boards and teachers’ unions have often squandered the benefits of reductions in class size by insisting upon cuts that reduce the size of all classes without focusing on those students who most need help. Estimates on Costs

The Education Department’s report said that such across-the-board cut were intolerably expensive. In 1986, the report said, a reduction by one pupil in the national average class size from 24 to 23 pupils per class would have required almost 73,000 more teachers and $5 billion. To cut that figure to 15, a threshold that the report acknowledges has been shown to result in substantial improvements in student achievement, would require a million extra teachers and $69 billion.

The report could have significant repercussions across the country because it will undoubtedly be used as ammunition by school board members and community leaders who have questioned spending money for more teachers and more classrooms.

Educators who disagree with the report say it ignores the fact that too many of the nation’s classrooms are overcrowded, with classes of 34 and more not uncommon. Mr. Litow notes that about one-third of New York City’s school districts cannot even shrink their classes because school buildings have too few classrooms.

There is a wide disparity in the size of America’s classes. At one %nd of the spectrum, Connecticut had 13.7 pupils for every teacher, while at the other end, California has 23 students. The New York City ratio is 17.8 students per teacher. Many Favor Smaller Classes

Many educators believe that whatever the merits of the Education Department’s argument, many classes clearly need to be shrunk. ”In general,” says Robert A. Burnham, dean of New York University’s education school, ”a professional teacher, in order to ask reasonable discipline in a classroom and have interaction with students, can do so in a better way with a smaller class size.”

Educators do say that canny teachers know how to create small groups within large classes. A teacher of 24 students, said Richard R. Ruopp, president of the Bank Street College of Education, can effectively reduce the artificial student-teacher ratio by having the 20 best pupils in a class work on a project they can manage themselves, while helping the remaining 4 with their critical shortcomings. ”Then there’s a ratio of 1 to 4,” he said.

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