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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 17, Number 3, November/December 2004

Class-size reduction cited as top spending priority in education: Public-opinion poll

According to a recent Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF) commissioned poll, most Canadians believe that reducing class sizes should be the number-one spending priority in education. Some 76% of those surveyed agreed that class sizes in public schools are too large.

The 2004 poll shows that 26% selected class-size reduction as the highest spending priority, followed by 22% for curriculum improvements and 15% for services for students with special needs. Province-wide student achievement tests ranked the lowest, with only 5% of the public and 0% of teachers supporting this exercise as a spending priority.

"The public associates small classes with better discipline and with teachers’ giving more personal attention," says CTF President Terry Price. "More individualized attention for students means achieving the level of performance that matches the students’ abilities and learning skills.

"The stress that crowded classrooms is putting on young or beginning teachers was also noted by those surveyed. According to the poll results, 77% believed that young or beginning teachers leave the profession after a few years because of large class sizes and increasingly heavy workload.

"Teachers with small classes can spend time and energy helping each child succeed. Smaller classes also enhance safety, discipline, and order in the classroom. When qualified teachers teach smaller classes, kids learn more. It’s simply common sense, and studies show that it works to increase student achievement.

There has been significant research, including Project STAR, the Student-Teacher Achievement Ratio project, conducted in Texas in the mid-1980s. The study, involving 2.4-million students in Grades 1 through 7, found that student achievement fell as the student/teacher ratio increased for every student above an 18-to-1 ratio. It also found that students in smaller classes significantly outperformed students in regular-sized classes and regular-sized classes with a teacher aide.

"The research is clear: Class size is vital to the success of our students. If small class size does improve achievement, then cost should be no obstacle especially if one compares the human and financial costs associated with dropouts and remedial education.

The poll was conducted by Vector Research + Development Inc. from May 6 to 11, 2004, with 1,001 Canadians throughout the country. In 19 cases out of 20, the results based on a random sample of 1,001 will differ by no more than plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

CTF News Service, Ottawa