Thursday, August 26, 2004

Teach em to think

The Australian on Wednesday was in a shit-stirring mood, with a front page story that was bound to be contested and heavily controversial:

Smaller classes don't aid students: REDUCING class sizes does not improve academic performance at primary or secondary school level, according to an unprecedented Australian study that has widespread ramifications for state governments pushing for smaller classes.


Note that the researched was carried out by the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research (based at that fine academic institution in Parkville), and NOT by any recognised educational body. In essense, a bunch of economists have decided that any economically rationalist approach to education will produce good outcomes. Good work, chaps.

The fundamental problem with the research is that it only considers easily measurable outcomes - namely the results of standardised academic tests of students. Information that is not included in the research is less quantifiable measurements which show the inherent benefits of a small teacher-student ratio.

As far as can be seen, the MIAESR research failed to include Kid's-Warm-Inner-Glow-Quotients, the Improved-Sense-of-Self-Worth-Percentage or the Reduced-Bullying-Factor, all of which are likely to be aided by having fewer students per teacher, but would not be measured in such research. Instead, a series of narrow, academic indictors were used.

It is always worrying when research which is counter-intuitive presents itself as a statement of truth, and it's even more worrying when this research is taken seriously by policy makers. Kids in big classes are doing it tough, and though the standard of results might not be greatly affected, the quality of school life is. As educational experts, MIAESR make excellent economists.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

And as a letter writer to The Australian pointed out today, how extra students = extra stress and burnout for teachers.

Couldn't agree more with you on Seven's piss-poor post-Lympic programming too.

Brent