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Are Smaller Classes Better?: Malcolm Gladwell Challenges Accepted Mantra


In his new book David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, Malcolm Gladwell challenges the accepted mantra that smaller classes are better for children's learning. His view? Larger classes may be better.

small class with teacherThe knee-jerk response is “yes,” of course. According to recent data, in fact, 77 percent of Americans think it makes more sense to use taxpayer money to lower class sizes than to raise teachers’ salaries.

In his new book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants (Little, Brown and Company 2013), author Malcolm Gladwell challenges the accepted mantra on class size using research and firsthand accounts from educators. While hundreds of studies have been done on the effects of class size in the past few decades, researchers have not found any consistent relationship between class size and student achievement. “Why isn’t there much of a difference between a class of twenty-five students and a class of eighteen students?” Gladwell asks in Chapter 2. “A smaller classroom translates to a better outcome only if teachers change their teaching style when given a lower workload. And what the evidence suggests is that in this midrange, teachers don’t necessarily do that. They just work less.”

Through polling teachers in the U.S. and Canada, Gladwell determined that a too-large class can be detrimental because a teacher can only handle so many students, but a too-small class can be equally detrimental for other reasons. A small class can be dominated by one strong personality, causing the other children to participate less. A small group will also inevitably have less diversity in thought and experience, making it more difficult to have rich class discussions. And at the same time, having fewer students decreases the chance that any one student will find others in the class like him who can validate his thoughts and feelings.

Although Gladwell doesn’t draw any hard conclusions about class size in his book, the data he presents makes it clear that we should think twice before listing a small class size among the advantages when determining the right schools for our children.

 

Also see:

The Common Core Effect: Resources for Parents

The Personal Touch: Innovative Classrooms for Personalized Learning

Tips to Personalize Your Child's Education at Home

 

 

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Kaitlin Ahern

Author: Kaitlin Ahern has a degree in magazine journalism from Syracuse University. See More

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