We are all familiar with the fallacy of false causes. Just because a five year old drummer boy beat his drum every evening it was not the cause of the sun's decline below the Western horizon. The co-incidence of factors does not make one the cause of the other--necessarily.
For years we have been told that when it comes to schools, smaller class sizes mean a better, higher quality education. The argument is that a lower teacher pupil ratio causes better learning. Superficially this conclusion is compelling. It seems commonsensical to believe that were a single teacher to teach (say) five hundred pupils in one huge classroom the educational outcomes would be far below one teacher teaching one pupil.
Not so fast, say the sceptics.
What about if in the second case the teacher of the sole pupil despised his or her charge--and vice versa? What would happen if the two had a serious clash of personalities? It is arguable that at a certain point smaller classes intensify the interaction with the teacher to the point of distractions that might well impede learning. After all, every pupil in a secondary school could relate stories of teachers they dislike or even despise, and others they admire and respect. What would happen if one of the disliked ones was teaching a small class of only ten children? Presumably bad educational outcomes would result.
Here is another consideration: it stands to reason that if one is teaching ten unruly, ill disciplined, violent, temper tantrum ridden children the educational outcomes in that class would likely be far worse than if one were teaching thirty-five generally well disciplined, well ruled, respectful pupils.
Thus arguments about class sizes can be very misleading. But it is the standard propaganda line of educrats and teacher unions. Apparently educational miracles can be worked if only we had more teachers in our schools and class sizes were halved. But now National Standards data is putting the propaganda line under a "please explain" scrutiny. This from the Herald:
What may be going on here? As always there is likely to be a cluster of causes and effects swirling around. One intuitive possibility is that larger classes and larger schools necessarily require a greater level of structure, order, and regimentation. That, in its turn, can foster an atmosphere of respect and discipline within which effective learning takes place. Smaller classes, on the other hand, may encourage teachers to be "pally" with their charges--more informal, more friendly, more personal. The classroom would likely become more a time for social interaction rather than hard work.
National Standards shock: Big classes workPrimary schools have disclosed controversial data about pupil achievement, with the surprise revelation that children in bigger classes and bigger schools get better grades. The Herald on Sunday has conducted a comprehensive survey of schools' national standards results, before the Ministry of Education publishes them this week.
At schools with fewer pupils for each teacher, around 70 per cent of children are achieving national standards in reading, writing and arithmetic. But at schools with more pupils for each teacher - in effect, bigger classes - the pass rates rise to about 80 per cent. So too with school rolls: the highest proportions of children achieving or exceeding national standards are at big schools.
In any event, the educrats and the teacher unions now have some explaining to do.