Over 300 parents, teachers, support workers, MLAs, Trustees, and community members met in Richomnd BC this past Friday and Saturday (Feb. 10-11, 20065) to discus the issue of class size and composition in our public education system. Parent reps from a wide range of PACs, DPACS, and also the BCCPAC joined in workshops and plenury discussions that explored the peer reviewed academic research that sheds light on the question of whether class size matters.
Webcasts of keynote addresses.The opening plenary session on Friday featured a research presentation by UBC Education faculty member Dr. Kimberly Schonert-Reichl and a personal refelction of a vetern teacher, Kate Noakes, from Fernie Secondary.
Dr. Schonert-Reichel drew upon her own research and that of colleagues through North America to make the case that smaller class sizes (less than 25 or 20 depending upon grade level) is a critical factor in creating positive learning outcomes for children in the K-12 system. The important question, according to Dr. Schonert-Reichel, is why? What is it about smaller class sizes that leads to better learning outcomes?
Drawing upon her research at hasting Elementary in Vancouver Dr. Schonert-Reichel has found that it is the relationships between students and significant adults in the school that is the special ingredient. And, by a significant majority these are caring relationships between teachers and students. The smaller the class size the more caring the teacher-student relations and the better the learning outcomes. Larger class sizes lead to a distancing of teacher from student as the teachers attempt to meet the core learning goals as prescribed by standardized tests and the stress of doing more and more with less and less. It is in this context that the composition of a class –i.e. the racial, linguistic, learning, and health needs of the students- come into play. In crease diversity of the students, increase the class size, and the learning outcomes plummet like a lead balloon.
Kate Noakes, a vetern BC teacher gave us the personal experiential view as a teacher in the public system. In a moving and sincere presentation in which the speaker seemed to be on the verge of tears, Ms Noakes outline the progression of teaching and the face and shape of her classes since she started teaching over twenty years ago. Taken together, the ‘objective’ presentation of the researcher and the moving testimonial of the teacher left no doubt in the audience’s mind that this would be a memberable event.
Overall the conference provided a useful opportunity to meet with parents, teachers, and other community members from across the province. It was refreshing to have an opportunity to actually engage in discussion and to hear a real diversity of opinion being expressed in a constructive and positive fashion. At the end of the conference I was left with a feeling of optimism that parents and teachers share an important concern and have the combined capacity to make a real difference for our children.