For years, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) has lobbied for smaller class sizes.
The research supports the federation’s position that, particularly in the primary grades, students in small classes perform significantly better than their peers on reading and mathematics tests. Students in small classes participate more in school and have fewer discipline problems. When in small classes, minority students and inner city students show an even greater academic improvement.
Further, evidence indicates that manageable class sizes and class composition in all grades contribute significantly to a teacher’s ability to plan and program effectively for students, and to devote time to working with students on an individual basis.
Primary Class Size Reduction
The current requirements on primary class size (Grade 1 - 3) are that each board must organize primary classes so that:
Each year school boards are required to submit their primary class sizes to the Ministry of Education. For the 2013-14 school year:
While this indicates the circumstances on the snapshot date, class sizes will often change as the school year progresses.
The government has exempted classes for students in the Full Day Early Learning Kindergarten Program from this class size cap expectation. There is no cap for full-day kindergarten classrooms. Instead, the government said that school boards are required to maintain an average ELPK class size of 26 across the board. The result is that some ELKP classes have 30 students while others have 15.
Junior and Intermediate Class Size Reductions
Junior and intermediate class sizes can vary widely from school to school and from board to board. The regulatory requirements are that boards must have a board average of 24.5 students for Grades 4 to 8.
The federation welcomes the smaller class sizes for elementary students. However, ETFO’s policy remains:
Studies have shown that the more time the student spends in small classes, the greater the improvement. To reap the long-term benefits, students must spend at least two years in a small class. Students who spent four years in a small class received the greatest benefit.
Smaller classes cost more. However, fewer students repeating grades make-up for that cost. More high school graduates with increased learning power adds more money to the economy and reduces the cost of social welfare benefits (Pate-Bain et. Al. 1999).
In addition to the improvements that show up on achievement tests, teachers report that “They get to know their students better, spend less time on discipline, and are able to provide students with more individualized instruction. Generally, smaller classes go hand-in-hand with greater enthusiasm and achievement among both students and teachers.” (Dupuis, 2000).
Individual attention includes more than one-on-one instruction. A focus on the needs of individual students occurs when teachers form small groups and during whole-class instruction. Smaller classes allow teachers to know and understand the needs of the individual students, allowing intervention earlier when problems arise. (Zahorik, 1999).
Molnar (1999) has summarized why small classes are so effective:
Recent research into the Ontario Primary Class Size confirms that “class size reduction can provide the environment in which teachers can interact with individual students more frequently and use a greater variety of instructional strategies, create more opportunities for higher-order co-construction of meaning by students, and interact more frequently with other teachers and adults in support of classroom teaching. The evidence suggests that students learn more, are more engaged, and are less disruptive. Parents of children in smaller classes perceive improvements in their children’s school experiences”. Bascia (2010)
Elementary teachers support the reduction of class size in the primary grades. However, the government must do more to support students throughout their elementary school years. In public school boards in Ontario, funding for elementary school students still lags behind that for secondary students. Secondary students are funded at $5,763 per student. Elementary students are funded at $5,424 per primary student and $4491 per junior /intermediate student – a difference of $1272 for a student moving from Grade 8 to Grade 9. Equalizing this Foundation Grant would make an important difference for children in their formative years.
Bascia, Nina et al (2010),” Ontario’s Primary Class Size Reduction Initiative: Report on Early Implementation,” Canadian Education Association.
ETFO Research Report: Class Size Makes A Difference (August 2000).
Dupuis, Joanna (2000), “Small Classes Succeed,” Rethinking Schools, Volume 14, No. 3. Spring.
Leithwood, Kenneth (2006), “Teacher Working Conditions That Matter: Evidence for Change,” ETFO.
Molnar, Alex (1999), “Smaller Classes and Educational Vouchers: A Research Update,” Keystone Research Centre.
Pate-Bain, Helen, B. DeWayne Fulton, and Jayne Boyd-Zaharias (1999), “Effects of Class Size Reduction in the Early Grades (K-3) on High School Performance,” Health and Education Research Operative Services (HEROS) http://www.heros-inc.org/ [removed link on April 30, 2012]
Zahorik, John A. (1999), “Reducing class Size Leads to Individualized Instruction,” Educational Leadership, Volume 57, No. 1, September, 50-53.