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Civic Minds in The Seattle Times

Program Content for October 31, 2014

Date:  Friday, October 31, 2014

E-Edition Date:  Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Article Title:  Does class size matter? Research reveals surprises

Section:  Main, A1


Vocabulary Review: Scant


  “There’s scant research on the effects, positive or negative, of reducing class sizes in the upper grades because the variables are much harder to pin down, Finn said.”



Please look up the definition of scant and use in a sentence, using your own words.






Comprehension Questions


1.      What will Washington voters decide next week?  


2.      The issue is both a political and educational one, with questions about ____________.


3.      Few education reforms make as much sense on a gut level as giving teachers what?


4.      The idea is popular with parents and politicians alike — at least _______ states have carried out some kind of class-size reduction in the past 15 years — and the Legislature in Washington has pledged to reduce average class sizes in kindergarten through third grade to ______ students by the fall of 2017.



5.      Initiative 1351 on the Nov. 4 ballot would go even further.  What will it do for K-12 classrooms, if passed?


6.      According to the latest federal data based on teacher surveys, the average class size is _____ in the state’s elementary schools and _______ in secondary schools.



7.      But despite more than four decades of research in the U.S. and abroad, the effects of this simple idea about how to raise _______________  ____________________have been hard to isolate and measure, leading to academic squabbles over its value.


8.      Researchers generally agree that lower class sizes, at least in the earliest grades, are linked to what?


9.      What do they disagree on? Approximately how much will it cost our state?


10.   Project STAR (Student Teacher Achievement Ratio) was conducted in Tennessee between 1985 and 1989 and involved more than 1,200 teachers and almost 12,000 students, according to Jeremy Finn, of the University at Buffalo (State University of New York), a statistician who helped set up the experiment and publish its results.  Why are the results from Project STAR so important?




11.   According to the SAGE (Student Achievement Guarantee in Education) program, smaller classes worked best when teachers received what? 

Class Discussion Questions and Essay Prompts:







·        How many students are in each of your classes?

·        Do you think you would achieve more in a smaller class?  Why or why not?

·        What other factors will help increase student achievement, besides lowering class size?



In recent years, researchers have been trying to figure out why smaller class size works, how it works and who benefits most. The most obvious explanation for why reducing class size works — that teachers give students better, more tailored instruction in smaller classes — probably isn’t the reason why achievement goes up.


 Reducing class sizes can have the potential to make a big difference for students only if teachers get the training and administrative support to take advantage of the situation by changing how they teach and how they interact with parents.


Do you agree or disagree with the above statement?  Do some teachers need to change the way they teach their students?  Do they interact with parents?  Is that interaction positive?   



In 2003, Finn co-authored a paper that identified a gaping hole in the puzzle:



“Despite the many studies that show positive effects, research has yet to come up with a consistent, integrated explanation for the gains attributable to reduced class size,” according to the paper, published in the journal Review of Educational Research.  




The most intuitively satisfying explanation — that teachers give students more individualized instruction in smaller classrooms — didn’t pan out when researchers observed what actually happened in smaller classes.



Several studies have found that while teachers may have more interactions with students, they tend to teach the same way they always have, regardless of the size of the class.  Finn and his colleagues proposed a different explanation, which they believe better fit the evidence from the studies and also jibed with classroom observations:   Students behave better and participate more often when they can’t hide in the back of the classroom.


“Most people I talk to predict that the disruptive kids are the worst, but they’re not. The inattentive, withdrawn kids are by far and away poorer students than all the others,” Finn said. “If you want to get lost in the back corner, whether you’re disruptive or not ... you disconnect yourself from any instruction at all.”


What do you think about Finn’s findings?  Have you disconnected from learning at one point in your learning?  Why or why not?  Is this the main reason for some students continuing to fall farther and farther behind?




“Class-size reduction alone will only get fewer children in a class.  It doesn’t translate directly to a change in achievement.”  Taking your personal experience in our education system along with the studies and research that have been done on smaller class sizes, would you vote for or against Initiative 1351?


What other factors determine student success in classrooms? 



Newspaper-related CBA activity:  U.S. Policy


How the United States government interacts with the world affects people across the globe.  Analyze and evaluate the causes and effects of US foreign policy on people in the United States and across the world.


·        Using The Seattle Times e-edition, find an article from this week that deals with world politics or foreign policy. 

·        What are the main points of view from someone living in that particular country?  How is that “view” similar and different than your own opinion, regarding the specific issue the article is discussing?

·        Why is it important to study and learn about foreign policy?  How does it help you understand the world we live in, using current issues and events?  



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