Friday, September 16, 2011

Alberta Education's flip-flop on class size

On August 29th I saw this tweet from Kathy Telfer who is Alberta Education's Communications Director:

17 days ago I followed the link to the Calgary Herald article
that hosted this quote from Sharon Friesen,
but when I try to click the link now , I get a an error message. I wonder why?
You'll notice that the top, right hand corner of the picture above says 17 days ago. This is important because when I clicked on the URL in Kathy's Tweet 17 days ago I was directed to the quote Telfer featured in her tweet. The article was from the Calgary Herald and was titled "Parents fear affects of growing class sizes". The quote that the voice box of Alberta Education Kathy Telfer featured was from Sharon Friesen, an associate professor of education at the University of Calgary. But when I click on this link today, 17 days later, the link is broken. I wonder why...

To say the least, I was disappointed that the voice of Alberta Education was supporting a stance that might strongly suggest that class size doesn't matter. So I replied to Kathy Telfer one day after her original Tweet:

I think my point is pretty clear. I admit that small class sizes is not some magic bullet or panacea that will miraculously fix public education, but based on a plethora of research, clearly smaller class sizes are at the very least necessary, if not sufficient, in achieving increased student learning.

As if I couldn't be disappointed enough in Kathy Telfer or Alberta Education, here was her response:

This was all made that much more interesting when on September 13, Gordon Thomas of the Alberta Teachers' Association wrote a rebuttal to the Calgary Herald's piece on class size titled "A Sizeable Issue: Class Size Matters" where Thomas pointed out:
Although parents, teachers and trustees are concerned larger classes will adversely affect their children’s education, Sharon Friesen, vice-dean of the faculty of education at the University of Calgary, disagrees. The Calgary Herald quotes her as saying: “We’ve spent a lot of money reducing the number of children per classroom, so one of the questions we need to ask is why is the impact so small on reducing class size?”
Incidentally, Friesen is a board member of the Calgary Science Charter School, where classes are capped at no more than 25 students per teacher throughout the school.
I find it grossly ironic that Sharon Friesen would discount the importance of class size on one hand while maintaining a leadership role in a charter school that limits class sizes to the rather reasonable number of 25.

This reminds me of the old adage -- class size doesn't matter... for other people's children.

So almost two weeks after this whole mess started, I really have only one question for Kathy Telfer and Alberta Education:

I'll let you know if I get a response but if I were you, I wouldn't hold my breath.


  1. Joe, I think the point that is missing, or at least only alluded to, is that reducing class size alone does not increase student learning. I believe that it creates more possibilities for increased student learning, but it must be parceled with quality teaching, assessment, etc. I liken it to technology, that if someone is an ineffective teacher without using technology, they will probably be an ineffective teacher with technology. Technology alone, just like class size, does not make any significant difference. It is what you do with your students, because you are able to due to the small class sizes, that makes the difference. If I am having students do worksheets / workbooks for most of the day, would it matter if I had 18 students or 32? It is another (important) piece of the puzzle.

  2. 6 minimum, 15 maximum in an ideal world...anything else is someone's values getting in the way.

  3. I think that the people who are going to tell you that class size matters are the teachers. I don't know that I've ever met a professor that would claim that the student outcomes of a 50 person+ lecture are as rich and resonate as a small classroom. If you can't personally connect to all of the students in your class you might as well just be a glorified correspondence course.

  4. I'm hoping to someday see homework as classwork. Where better to get a question answered if not by your teacher. Kids could work together and help each other, less students would be "outsiders", and not only have individual grades, but, team grades. Our kids are lost in the social media of today, we can help them get back to helping their neighbors, hands on. just sayin


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