Smaller classes for everyone

If there’s one thing that kids need to be successful, it’s one-on-one time with their teacher. This has been researched extensively and parents get it too: smaller classrooms mean better outcomes for students.


Front-line classroom educators identify small classes as the most important factor in their ability to work individually with students and meet their diverse needs. ETFO’s recent research tells us that parents place equal importance on class size. Class size has been extensively studied. The most recent U.S.-based review of the research concludes that, “The academic literature strongly supports the common-sense notion that class size is an important determinant of student outcomes.”

Ontario’s recent investment in smaller classes in the primary grades (grade 1 through to grade 3) has had a positive impact on our classrooms. Ontario-based research demonstrates that smaller primary classes have enabled teachers to provide more individual attention to students and use a greater variety of instructional strategies. Smaller classes have also contributed to improved student behaviour and peer relationships.

Smaller classes have improved student engagement and achievement in the early grades.

The latest research indicates that small classes have an even greater impact if teaching strategies and classroom practices that take full advantage of the benefits of smaller classes are used. Teachers need opportunities to share and collaborate on best practices in smaller classes. The benefits of small classes we have seen in the primary grades need to be extended to Kindergarten to grades 4 to 8.

Currently, primary grades are funded for an average class size of 20 students and secondary grades for a class size average of 22 students. By comparison, funding for grades 4 to 8 supports a class size average of 24.5 students. These grades have the largest class sizes in the system, often more than 30 students to a class. The new full-day Kindergarten program is an exciting, bold initiative, but there are some issues that must be addressed, including class size. Kindergarten classes are funded to have an average class size of 26 students and an average staff-to-child ratio of 1:13, and recently succeeded in capping the number of students in classes to 30 students beginning in September 2017. That cap will be lowered to 29 in September 2018. We still need to work on lowering Kindergarten class size. ETFO members consistently raise concerns about the challenges of setting up activity-based programs for that many young children.

Ontario has a longstanding policy of integrating students with identified special needs into regular classrooms and recognizes that our public schools have a responsibility to support the education and growth of all children. This policy ensures that Ontario students’ learning environment reflects the diversity of society at large and fosters understanding and appreciation for individual differences.

To effectively support this policy and enable classroom educators to meet the individual needs of their diverse students, class sizes should be adjusted to reflect the number of students with identified special needs in each class. Because of associated costs, the small class size policy is often targeted by those looking for savings in the education sector. Small classes are, however, at the heart of educators’ ability to engage students and meet their individual needs.

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Recommendations
  • Extend the benefits of smaller classes to grades 4 to 8.
  • Reduce the average Kindergarten class size to align with other primary grades.
  • Introduce a weighting factor that reduces class size in accordance with the number of students with identified special needs integrated into regular classrooms.

Sources

Active Healthy Kids. (2010) Report Card 2010. http://www.activehealthy-kids.ca/ecms.ashx/2010Active-HealthyKidsCanadaReportCard-long-form.pdf.

Bascia, Nina. (2010) Reducing Class Size: What Do We Know? Canadian Education Association. Toronto.

Coishy, David. (2005) Canadian School Libraries and Teacher-Librarians: Results from the 2003/04 Information and Communications Technologies in Schools Survey. Statistics Canada. Ottawa.

Cummins, Jim. (2012) Teaching English Language Learners. Research for Teachers, No. 9. ETFO and OISE/University of Toronto.

Fairholm, Robert. (August, 2010) Early Learning and Care Impact Analysis. The Centre for Spacial Economics. Milton.

Hargreaves, Andy and Shirley, Dennis. (2009) The Fourth Way: The Inspiring Future for Educational Change. Corwin. Thousand Oaks, CA.

Leithwood, Kenneth, McAdie, Pat, Bascia Nina, and Rodrigue, Annie, eds. (2004) Teaching for Deep Understanding: Towards the Ontario Curriculum that We Need. Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario and OISE/UT. Toronto.

Mackenzie, Hugh. (2009) No time for Complacency: Education Funding Reality Check. (2009) Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Ottawa.

OECD (2012), Lessons from PISA for Japan, Strong Performers and Successful Reformers in Education, OECD Publishing. http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264118539-en

Ontario Ministry of Education. (March, 2009) Planning and Possibilities: The Report of the Declining Enrolment Working Group. Toronto.

People for Education. (2013) Mind the Gap: Inequality in Ontario Schools. Toronto

People for Education. (2012) Annual Report on Ontario’s Schools 2011. Toronto.

Queen’s University and People for Education. Klinger, D.A.; Lee, E.A.; Stephenson, G.; Deluca, C.; Luu, K (2009) “Exemplary School Libraries in Ontario.” Ontario Library Association. Toronto.

Queen’s University and People for Education. (2006) School Libraries and Student Achievement in Ontario. Ontario Library Association. Toronto.

Ravitch, Diane. (2010) The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education. Basic Books. New York.

Sahlberg, Pasi. (2011) Finnish Lessons: What can the world learn from educational change in Finland? Teachers College Press. New York.

Schanzenback, D.W. (2014) Does Class Size Matter? National Education Policy Centre. Boulder CO.Retrieved February 19, 2014 from http://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/does-class-size-matter.

Upitis, Rena and Smithrim, Katherine. (2002) Learning Through the Arts, National Assessment 1999-2003, Final Report Part I: Grade Student Achievement and Engagement. Kingston.

 

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