Dear Betsy DeVos, Class Size Matters

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Our Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, has done it again ladies and gentlemen. In a budget proposal that would cut federal education spending, she claims that:

“Students may be better served being in larger classes, if by hiring fewer teachers, a district or state can better compensate those who have demonstrated high quality and outstanding results.”

I’m just gonna leave that right there and let it marinate for a second. 

Okay, now that it’s had some time to simmer…when defending this outrageous comment, Betsy DeVos went on to say that some students may learn better in larger settings because they have more students to collaborate with in the classroom. She tried it!

I could easily find studies that corroborate the fact that smaller class sizes positively affect students. Or, I could visit just about any school in America and ask the teachers and students if they would prefer small or large class sizes to meet the learning needs of students. I’d bet money (and if you know me, that’s saying a lot because I’m quite frugal) that the resounding answer would be in favor of smaller class sizes.

This upsets me so much that I don’t even know where to start. As a teacher for nearly a decade, my class size ranged from 18 to 25 students. That year where I had 18 was beyond amazing; fewer small groups, more one-on-one conferencing…every teacher’s dream. On average, I’d say I was right around 22 students. And let me tell you Betsy, those extra bodies make a difference.

Smaller class sizes allow teachers to differentiate instruction. Even the most skilled teacher would find it difficult to meet the needs of all students in a larger class size. Indulge me for a second as I give Betsy a quick lesson on Lev Vygotsky and the zone of proximal development. In a nutshell, ZPD refers to the sweet spot when a learner can almost complete a task independently but still requires some guidance from a teacher or collaboration with a peer who has mastered the specific task.

As I typed that, I could hear Kanye saying, “Don’t let me into my zone. I’m definitely in my zone. Zone, zone, zone, zone, zone.” Well, Betsy, it will be more difficult for teachers to meet students in their respective zones when educators are trying to meet the needs of even more students. 

Now, Betsy may try to use ZPD to justify her stance by focusing on collaboration with peers. Contrary to what she may think, larger class size does not necessarily beget more collaboration. Students can collaborate without adding more students to the mix. With a larger class size, teachers will have to be even more intentional about organizing heterogeneous groups, and they will have to be on top of classroom management and leadership, all while taking into account the various learning needs, styles, and personalities of more students. Geez, just thinking about that gives me a headache, which brings me to my next point.

Does our Secretary of Education not realize that the teacher burnout struggle is real? If she truly understood the severity of the struggle, I find it hard to believe that reducing the number of teachers and increasing class size would be the solution. With larger class sizes, the burden placed on teachers would be even heavier. Differentiating instruction, providing quality feedback, maintaining relationships…how can a teacher accomplish all of this without burning out? Betsy is sitting here talking about hiring fewer teachers, it’s difficult to retain the teachers we already have!

Now she did touch on one thing that needs more attention…better compensation for teachers. Though, I repeat, I strongly disagree with her proposal to make it happen. In terms of compensation, how about we just give teachers what they deserve in the first place?! Pay teachers what they deserve, give them the support they need, and maybe, just maybe the state of education will improve. Invest in education, it’s not rocket science.

So Betsy, in case you didn’t know…size matters and when it comes to educating our children, a larger class size isn’t better. In fact, students and teachers deserve smaller class sizes where the student to teacher ratio is more manageable resulting in stronger relationships, differentiated instruction, and more powerful interactions throughout the day, all reducing the likelihood of teacher burnout. Betsy DeVos continues to make it abundantly clear that she is not the right person for this job. Fewer teachers plus larger class sizes was not, is not, will never be the answer! My Teacher Said.jpg

~ Marissa