Should we be trying to reduce class sizes?

Class size is a hot topic again. A predicted population increase and funding decrease, mean that pressure on class sizes is likely to grow. A research review from the Department for Education considers a number of issues around class size in England, including the impact on educational outcomes. The authors found a number of benefits from smaller classes, such as individual pupils being the focus of the teacher’s attention for longer.

However, previous research has shown that reducing class size is beneficial when classes are small, around 15 pupils. With budgets stretched, schools should consider the financial benefits of allowing classes to grow slightly. This may allow them to preserve resources for more effective ways of improving attainment, such as increasing teacher effectiveness.

Source: Class size and education in England evidence report (2011), Department for Education

Good teachers get results

Everyone knows that a good teacher makes a difference, but establishing who the good teachers are, and what difference they make, has long been a problem. A new study by economists at Harvard University attempts to answer these questions. They analysed the school records and earnings information for 2.5 million children, and found that, when a high “value added” teacher joins a new school, results for their class improve.

Having a high value-added teacher (in the top 5%) for one year raises a child’s cumulative lifetime income by $50,000. How this information is used is clearly a matter of policy, but any system that aims to reward good performance while supporting or punishing poor performance would need to be carefully designed and tested. An interesting article about the study can be found here.

Source: The long-term impacts of teachers: teacher value-added and student outcomes in adulthood (2011), American Economic Review 

Parliamentary event builds support for Education Media Centre

More than 70 policymakers, journalists, educators, and researchers attended a parliamentary event in November to hear more about the new Education Media Centre (EMC), a project of the Coalition for Evidence-Based Education. The EMC aims to capture and spread knowledge about what works in education, by directly supporting the national media.

Speakers talked about how the EMC will provide journalists and policy-makers with authoritative, independent, and accessible insights from education research, and so help them base their work on robust evidence. It will link journalists with expert researchers and solid evidence in a language that they can understand and within the timescales they need. The aim is to raise the quality of information that teachers and the general public receive through policy makers and the press, and so improve practice in classrooms and outcomes for children. You can read more about the EMC here

Source: Coalition for Evidence-based Education 

Education fashions detrimental to research

Fashions and fads in education are a real problem in terms of evidence-based practice, says the IEE’s Robert Slavin on his blog. Without an evidence base, policies and practice swing between enthusiasms and no progress is made.

Fashions can even have an impact on commissioned research. Many evaluations are of government policies, but these have often gone out of favour by the time the research is published. He does offer a solution: “ have a wide array of research going on at all times that is creating and evaluating promising solutions to longstanding problems”.

Source: Stop the pendulum, I want to get off (2011), Education Week (Sputnik Blog)

Are standards slipping?

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) has shown a decline in the relative performance of England’s secondary pupils. Although this has been a concern to policy makers (and others) a new report from the Institute of Education argues that policy decisions should not be made on PISA findings alone. It suggests that England’s drop in the PISA ranking is not replicated in another major assessment, Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). The author, John Jerrim, argues that there are possible data limitations in both surveys.

Source: England’s “plummeting” PISA test scores between 2000 and 2009: Is the performance of our secondary school pupils really in relative decline? (2011), Department of Quantitative Social Science