Beyond class size Howard proposal: Improving teacher-student ratios is the right step, but not the only one.

November 24, 1998

A STAFF PROPOSAL to reduce class sizes significantly in 17 elementary schools should be approved by the Howard County Board of Education. The proposal, which also includes putting ,, additional teachers in some middle and high schools, would cost $2.4 million next school year. It would be money well spent.

But the board can't stop there. Research indicates that while reducing class size helps students learn, the results are better when the quality of teaching is also addressed. Professional development courses may be needed to ensure that teachers change their methods to reflect they are instructing fewer children.

Children should get more individual attention.

California's class-size reduction program was criticized two years ago because a quarter of the 18,000 teachers hired to reach its goals weren't certified to teach. Subsequent academic improvement was a mixed bag.

Better results occurred in Wisconsin, whose class-reduction program included a more rigorous academic curriculum, after-school programs for students and professional development workshops for teachers.

Congress, urged by President Clinton, has appropriated an additional $1.2 billion for class-size reduction. Reducing class sizes was a popular plank in Howard County election campaigns. And both Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Republican gubernatorial candidate Ellen R. Sauerbrey promised to reduce class sizes statewide.

The Howard proposal is to reduce class sizes in first and second grade from an average of about 25students to 19. Eight of the 17 schools where that will occur have a high concentration of low-income students, who typically benefit most from smaller classes and more individual attention. The school board should try to extend the program to as many schools as possible -- and add components that make sure teaching improves as class sizes go down.

Pub Date: 11/24/98

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