“Average class size” – most of the time, it’s a statistic that schools with small classes eagerly advertise and schools with large classes bemoan, using the number as evidence that a given school system needs more money.
One middle school in Houston is bucking the trend, though. Average class size there is 75 students. And principal Lannie Milon Jr. wouldn’t have it any other way.
But there’s a catch: The large classes at Thomas Middle School all have between five to nine teachers, meaning that the student-to-teacher ratio remains low. Still, the sheer number of kids in a single space resembles a college lecture hall more than a traditional K-12 classroom.
And although team-teaching isn’t new, this strategy takes it to the next level, as the Houston Chronicle reports. Milon’s ideas have faced resistance from those who think the change is too radical a departure from traditional classrooms, but as the school year goes on, he’s converting many into believers.
Milon may be a forerunner in rethinking the concept of class size and what a class itself should look like. Although many are still focusing the debate on whether the conventional wisdom of “smaller is better” always holds true, some educators are looking at the potential benefits of putting many teachers and students in the same room.
For instance, as one source explained to me over the summer, by staffing a classroom with several teachers, not only can each individual play to his or her subject-area strengths, but entry-level teachers can work side-by-side with experienced teachers, learning from them. Also, special-education teachers can work seamlessly alongside general-education teachers.
It’s a fairly new idea, and questions about its overall effectiveness remain. Still, the experiment in Houston serves as a reminder that we’d do well to think of class size as a resource to be used strategically to educational ends, not as a hard and fast ceiling.
Some classes should be very small — think of pre-kindergarten, or a senior seminar in college. Others can easily be quite large — think of college lectures, where a star professor is assisted by a handful of teaching assistants. What works best in a given situation will depend, of course, on the particulars of the students, teachers and subject matters involved. What research and anecdotal evidence make clear is that there isn’t one ideal class size for all ages, abilities and subjects.