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Class size not important in education say researchers

The Local · 17 Apr 2010, 13:09

Published: 17 Apr 2010 13:09 GMT+02:00

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And the researchers showed that a child’s social background was a very important factor when it came to whether he or she would be sent to a university track school, or Gymnasium.

Scientists who examined data from recent international primary school test results concluded the most important thing was for the teaching to be good, and for additional support lessons to be provided to children who were struggling.

“An effect from class size is not demonstrable,” the researchers write in their analysis of the 2006 data, reported in Der Spiegel on Saturday.

Working under the Dortmund educational researcher Wilfried Bos, the group examined a number of different factors including the social status of parents, and the recommendation of a school of whether a child should go to Gymnasium.

They confirmed the results of other studies which suggested that children from higher social classes had clearly better educational chances than those from worker families.

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The chances of a child from a higher social class going to Gymnasium are around four times those of a child from a working class family, they said.

Even when the children have matching scores in reading and other capabilities, those from a higher social background are on average still three times as likely to get into a Gymnasium than those from a lower social class, they concluded.

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

14:31 April 17, 2010 by pepsionice
I would question how this survey was accomplished. Personally....I've noticed in high school and in college....that smaller classes do improve the structure and the grades of people in the class. I witness my second grade teaching dividing the reading class into three groups, and spending almost thirty minutes a day with the slowest group of eight....and barely spending ten minutes a day with my group. It made a difference in getting the slower guys ahead.

It'd be helpful if they explained how they arrived at their conclusions...and if they used actual real classes as an example or just used plain statistics only.
17:55 April 17, 2010 by wood artist
While I suspect the "research" in this study is valid, I think it fails to link together two elements that it clearly identifies.

From my observations, class size might not matter. However, the study says...more or less...that as long as struggling students get the extra help they need, they'll do just fine, regardless of class size. That's probably true in theory, but in fact, larger class sizes usually mean the teacher doesn't have the time to devote to those students.

If that's accurate, then class size does matter, but only because it signals a lack of that "special attention" that makes a difference. Nothing else.

I'm not talking about true "special needs" students who need and deserve some help with their learning issues, just kids who may not be the brightest and sometimes struggle to understand or thrive.

19:11 April 17, 2010 by wmm208
Ranking education globally, German education is very far behind. The least of the institutions problems is the "size".
19:28 April 17, 2010 by townboy28
so much blah blah here from the losers.Just calm down very obvious you are just envy what Germans have.
00:28 April 18, 2010 by slawek
@getin-jiggy Yes, it's because of discrimination. Though, no one calls it that way nowadays. Politically correct it's called "inequity". That's because children from worker families do very bad at high school level, which is a fact. Historically the high school always responded to the needs of the higher class and consequently the study materials and teaching methods are tailored that way.

Well, as for the distinction between higher and lower social class it's a bit tricky. To get the idea of it one must understand the german pay roll plan for civil servants. The pay depends on age and education. Higher social class almost always refers to people with university level education. So a baker who is a millionaire will still stay worker/lower social class. (I hope I got that right)
01:35 April 18, 2010 by wmm208
People shouldnt compare the German education system to the American. Besides the age 9 test, the American goes to college or university to become more educated. The German goes to secondary school (Hauptschule, Gymnasium) to become something.
12:04 April 18, 2010 by Prufrock2010
@ wmm208:

Actually, peschvogel, the American public educational system is abysmal, and those who go to university are only those who can afford $35,000 - $50,000 a year for the privilege. That's to get a useless bachelor's degree. If one wants a post-graduate degree, the costs double.

While the lower level educational system here in Germany may be unfairly discriminatory in many respects, Germany's Gymnasium and university system offers much to be admired and emulated. The American model is a clear failure from beginning to end.
14:15 April 18, 2010 by ckirby
All the research I have read has actually says that class size does matter, but only at certain cut off points. I don't think anyone would argue that a class size of 40 or 70 would be as good as 20. But once you get less than that, there doesn't seem to be a difference based solely on the size of the class.

I second the commenter who pointed out the obvious flaw in the little bit of the research that was quoted in the article. To say that class size doesn't matter as long as struggling student get help after class is stupid. If they need help after class then the class size matters. Again, I'm not talking about kids with severe learning disabilities, I'm talking about your average or slightly below average kid who just needed a repeated exposure. I imagine their after hours help group would be pretty small - wonder why that is.

I question the research practice of this study.
17:41 April 18, 2010 by ChussKeDweele
Correlation does not demonstrate causation.
17:44 April 18, 2010 by amadik

Abysmal? Really? That's a pretty harsh criticism, don't you think? What do you really know about the American public school system? On what information do you base this generalization?

As it is, many excellent state universities' tuitions are much less than $35k/year. And most students even in the most expensive private universities receive some form of financial aid, whether it be merit-based or needs-based or both.

What makes you say a bachelor's degree is useless? While it may be true that in some fields an advanced degree is necessary (e.g., law, medicine, research) in others (e.g., engineering) a bachelor's degree is all that is necessary to enter the profession. Furthermore, most graduate programs (with the exception of medicine and law) end up costing a good student little or nothing thanks to teaching and research assistantships. There are also student loans available at a relatively low interest rate and for which the repayment schedule begins only after graduation.

What is the basis for your claim that the "American model is a clear failure from beginning to end?"
18:09 April 18, 2010 by wmm208

Nah, your theory is debunked. The rankings of the world best did not get your memo. And where do leaders, lawyers and doctors of all countries from all around the world send their students? USA. Best educational universities in the world. The US dominates more than 60% of the top 100 and 80% of the top 10 in EVERY category:


Natural Sciences and Mathematics - US

Engineering/Technology and Computer Sciences - US

Life and Agriculture Sciences - US

Clinical Medicine and Pharmacy - US

Social Sciences - US

So, if you want a quality education, you take out loans. There is a price you pay for quality. With free education, well, you get what you pay for....
21:31 April 18, 2010 by whiteriver
Hi everybody,

This is the first time I'm posting here. I saw a lot of opinions and I wish to share mine. I do agree that class size doesn't matter on education. I'm not from the USA nor from Germany. During my education I had classes of 40 (primary school), 100 (high school) and 300 (last year of high school).

If we talk about normal people, not people that need special care, what really matter is motivation. I clearly remember that in high school it was cool to be on the low grade students club. And we all know that school/high school are social places and what the young ones really care is their social status (we all did).

At my workplace (electrical engineering company) here in Germany I have other expat colleagues that share a similar background as mine and I fell that we don't have any inferior knowledge than Germans or Americans. I even have a colleague that did some years of his study at home, because his country was at war.

In the end, what people need to achieve anything is motivation.
21:35 April 18, 2010 by Talonx
@ wmm208

Do you understand that most of the worlds universities actually exist in the US? Do you know what this means statistically? Think per capita.

Anyways, the authors of this indicator have come under fire for their methods, partially to do with no per capita corrections, but mostly to do with the fact that no other researchers have been able to reproduce the ARWU's results using identical methods.

Check out the following two links for more info on the ARWU:



With free education, you don't get grade inflation, you don't have to worry about corruption as much, you can have an academics independent of rich idiots that are just able to shell out the cash, and of all things you can live your life without being in debt for the rest of it.

The, 'you get what you pay for' mantra is quite funny considering that money is put to more efficient use when it is provided by the state taxpayers as a whole, which often adds up to more money, per capita, than would otherwise be going in to the Uni, which means that more is put to more efficient use. In case you don't follow in places like Germany, you get more than what you paid for in comparison to places like the US.
22:20 April 18, 2010 by amadik
Do you understand that most of the worlds universities actually exist in the US? Do you know what this means statistically?
Actually, I don't believe it means anything statistically, unless the universities on the list are chosen at random.
23:15 April 18, 2010 by wmm208

Sure, whatever you need to twist the real, hard facts to make yourself feel better. Sure, you can do that. Feel free to make statistical and factual evidence irrelevant. Typisch..
23:47 April 18, 2010 by Prufrock2010
@ amadik:

I know something about the American public education system, as I was born, raised and educated in America. I worked and lived for most of my life in America. My undergraduate work was done at a State (read: public) university that was academically superior to most, but was affordable at the time. At the same university it is no longer affordable for most people without the encumbrance of massive student loans that require at least a decade to pay off. My postgraduate work in law was made possible only by scholarships and grants.

When I was hiring attorneys, many of them fresh out of distinguished law schools, I found that most applicants could not compose coherent declarative sentences, let alone a legal argument.

I don't have the statistics on the literacy rate of American high school graduates, but all one has to do is to pay attention to the political discourse in America to grasp that a great percentage of the population is semi-literate at best. The tea-partiers immediately come to mind, and the press is now reporting that they represent a more affluent, better educated class of people compared to the general population. If you need a graphic example of their literacy skills, or lack thereof, look no farther than the contributions of peschvogel (aka wmm208) on these threads.

My daughter was a public school student in California through the 9th grade, at which point we were left with no alternative but to put her into a private high school with a tuition of $15,000 per year just so that she would receive a decent education. And that was quite a few years ago.

The American public school system has been dumbed down to the point that most high school graduates can barely read or write. Public school teachers, who are grossly underpaid, spend more time babysitting or acting as cops than they do teaching.

I'm sure there is plenty of literature available on the topic if one is truly interested. If you believe that American public school system is so great, send your kid to an American public school. Good luck.
00:03 April 19, 2010 by wmm208
Most Educated Countries In The World

Rank - Country - Percentage of Population

1 - Canada - 44.0

2 - United States - 38.4

3 - Japan - 37.4

4 - Sweden - 33.4

5 - Finland - 33.3

6 - Denmark - 31.9

7 - Australia - 31.3

8 - Norway - 31.0

9 - New Zealand - 30.9

10 - South Korea - 29.5

Congratulations on being the top ten smartest nations!

Numbers indicate the Percentage of Population aged 25-64 that have attained a tertiary level of education (OECD Countries).

Source: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2007.
00:25 April 19, 2010 by Prufrock2010
@ peschvogel aka wmm208:

If you're a product of the American educational system, you have illustrated my point.
01:47 April 19, 2010 by stafusa
A very interesting article on the subject - way better than the The Local one actually (and way longer as well, BTW):

Annals of Education - Most Likely to Succeed


The bottom line: the class size does matter, but (not surprisingly) no at all as much as teacher quality.
09:22 April 19, 2010 by Talonx
I'm pretty sure that there are non-linear effects of class size, probably similar to the natural groupings for different levels of social cohesion. This also probably depends on the style of education (e.g. problem oriented vs traditional).
10:31 April 19, 2010 by dbert4
@ckirby & most of the others - You're arguing against an educational system that you're unfamiliar with, that being the Germany one.

The German system depends on homework and by extension parental participation. The school day is short, usually only till 13:00. After school students are expected to complete home work, for the younger ones with parental help. If the parents are too stupid or poor and work, their children are at a HUGE disadvantage in the learning process.

There is an elaborate private, "Nachhilfe" system which provides after-school tutoring to those children whose parent can afford it and or are smart enough to take advantage of it.

The German system works VERY well for those children whose mothers don't work. Since some 60% of mothers with young children are able to stay home, in no small part due to a social system with small payments to parents with children. AND grandparents are still an important part of the child support system in Germany and take a roll in raising and educating children.

The references to, ¦quot;social class¦quot; in the study had everything to do with whether ones parents are immigrants or not, and less to with the classical definition of social class.

Where the German system doesn¦#39;t do well is to make up for the short-comings of parents. If there is parental non-involvement, disinterest or stupidity, the children as is EVERYWHERE in the world are affected.

What I find ignorant, but typical is that you US Republican, anti-socialism, small government types are the ones that yell the loudest about ¦quot;bad teachers¦quot; and the schools failing students. In their minds, it reeks of socialism to say that it, ¦quot;takes a village¦quot; to raise children.

The PARENTS are the key but it they are unwilling or unable, and if there isn¦#39;t a ¦quot;village¦quot; of grandparents, tutors or someone else that cares, the children often suck in school.
17:05 April 19, 2010 by Talonx
@ cb6dba

Are you even aware what publicly funded researchers make, are you aware that they don't work on a comission system or have to worry about being fired? Are you aware that all of this generally leads to ethically pure public researchers?

If you want to worry about financing and how it negatively impacts the world look at so-called 'free enterprise' and the money handed out by govt.'s the world over to private organizations. Stop pointing the finger, like an idiot, at public researchers.
17:14 April 19, 2010 by derExDeutsche
if Germans are so smart why are they still trying to drive the rest of the world to 1 World Nationalism and Big Government Socialism? You would think that such intelligent people would begin to see the consequences of their actions, not just the their superior reactionary moral ism.
19:50 April 19, 2010 by Prufrock2010
@ amadik:

Thank you for a thoughtful response. I'll concede that my characterization of the American educational systems as "a clear failure from beginning to end" was a bit hyperbolic. Nevertheless, it does reflect my frustration. When I was a student, back when the world was in black and white, a good education was at least affordable for most people who wanted one. Times have changed dramatically.

Here are some numbers, for anecdotal purposes only:

For a California resident to attend UCLA (a state university) as an undergraduate, the estimated annual budget for tuition, fees, books, supplies, room & board, transportation, etc. is $29,612 (if living in a residence hall). For a nonresident of California, the annual budget for the same amenities is $52,491. (Source: UCLA website). At the University of California Berkeley, also a state university, the current annual tuition and fees for an undergraduate California resident is $10,335.50. For nonresidents, the annual tuition and fees equal $33,050.50. These numbers do not include room, board, transportation and beer money. At Berkeley School of Law, for a JD program, the annual tuition and fees (excluding room, board and books) for a California resident come to $36,486.50. For a non resident of California, the annual cost with the same exclusions is $48,731.50. (Source: UC Berkeley website.)

These are public institutions. I don't know what it would now cost to attend the law school I attended, and I shudder to think.

Assuming you have two kids in college in the California state university system, how much disposable income would you need to finance their college education, even as a California resident? It is a staggering obligation for all but the super wealthy. With two kids, over the course of 4 years of undergraduate school alone, you're looking at a minimum of a quarter of a million dollars. If your kids try to rely on student loans, they will never be able to repay them without an advanced degree, which will cost an additional $150,000 to $200,000. I know many young professionals, lawyers and Ph.Ds, who will be paying off these loans until THEIR children are of college age.

I have a young friend in the university here in Germany. His education is free. I tell him to work hard and count his blessings.
12:08 April 20, 2010 by derExDeutsche
who's got a good Leber KNoedel Suppe these days?

thats a better question...
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