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.


Frontline classroom educators identify small classes as the most important factor in their ability to work individually with students and meet their diverse needs. Smaller classes improve student behaviour and peer relationships and increase student engagement and achievement in the early grades. Investing in smaller classes will contribute to alleviating the antisocial, aggressive behaviour that contributes to incidents of classroom violence.

Class size has been extensively studied. A 2014 US-based review of the research concludes: “The academic literature strongly supports the common-sense notion that class size is an important determinant of student outcomes.” A 2018 study of the California class size reduction program – the largest in US history dating back to the late 1990s – found smaller classes in public schools reduced private school attendance and improved the quality of education through the enrolment of former private school students and the additional funding that followed them.

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

Ontario’s investment in smaller classes in primary grades 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. The Ontario research indicates that small classes have an even greater impact if educators use teaching strategies and classroom practices that take full advantage of the benefits of smaller classes. Educators 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 grades 4 to 8. Currently, primary grades are funded for an average class size of 20 and secondary grades for a class size average of 22. By comparison, funding for grades 4 to 8 supports a class size average of 24.5. These grades have the largest class sizes in the system, often more than 30 students in a class. A poll conducted by ETFO in early 2018 indicates that 67 per cent of Ontarians support placing a cap of 22 students on grades 4 to 8.

Ontario’s full-day Kindergarten program is an exciting, bold initiative but there are issues that must be addressed, including class size. The Kindergarten program is funded to have an average class size of 26 and an average staff-child ratio of 1:13. There are still, however, a number of classes with over 30 students and an even greater number of Kindergarten/Grade 1 split grade classes, which aren’t supported by a designated early childhood educator. ETFO members consistently raise concerns about the challenges of setting up activity-based programs for that many young children and managing classroom behaviour when many of the students are experiencing formalized learning environments for the first time. Overcrowded and often noisy classrooms or open “pods” limit teachers’ and early childhood educators’ ability to take full advantage of the play-based program and create stressful work and learning environments.

Ontario has a policy of integrating students with identified special needs into regular classrooms. The policy recognizes that our public schools have the responsibility to support the education and growth of all children. The inclusion model is based on the notion that students’ learning environment should reflect the diversity of society at large and foster 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.

In 2017, through negotiations with the provincial government to extend our members’ contract provisions for two years, ETFO achieved modest improvements to grades 4 to 8 class size, a cap of 30 students for Kindergarten in 2017-18 and of 29 students the following school year. Ontario must continue to reduce class size in these grades.

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Recommendations
  • Cap grades 4 to 8 class size at 24 students.
  • Cap Kindergarten at 26 students.
  • Introduce a weighting factor that reduces class size in accordance with the number of students with identified special needs integrated into regular classrooms.

Sources

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

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

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

Education Quality and Accountability Office (2017). 2016–2017 Annual Report. Toronto: Queen’s Printer for Ontario.

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

Gilraine, Michael, Macartney, H. and McMillan, R. (2018). Education Reform in General Equilibrium: Evidence from California’s Class Reduction. Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research.

Hargreaves, Andy and Fullan, M. (2012). Professional Capital: Transforming Teaching in Every School. New York: Teachers College Press, Columbia University.

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

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

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

Mackenzie, Hugh (2017). Shortchanging Ontario Students: An Overview and Assessment of Education Funding in Ontario. Toronto: Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario.

Mackenzie, Hugh (2017). Ontario’s deteriorating schools: The fix is not in. Toronto: Campaign for Public Education.

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 Auditor General (2017). Annual Report. Toronto.

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

ParticipACTION (2015). The Biggest Risk is Keeping Kids Indoors. The 2015 ParticipACTION Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth. Toronto: ParticipACTION.

People for Education (2017). Competing Priorities (Annual Report on Ontario’s Publicly Funded Schools 2017. Toronto: People for Education.

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

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.

Pollock, Katina and Mindzak, M. (2015). Specialist Teachers - A Review of the Literature prepared for the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario. Toronto.

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

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

Schanzenback, D.W. (2014). Does Class Size Matter? Boulder CO: National Education Policy Centre.  

Stratcom (2018). An Opinion Survey of Ontarians’ Views on Public Education. Toronto: Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario.

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

 

 

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