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Sorting and Regression

However, their measurable test gains may be less than students who do not have such challenges. Quality of instruction is also an issue: perhaps good instructors and smaller class size is best, but what is better — an average teacher with a small class or a good teacher with a large class? Baker suggests the former scenario is superior, given that smaller class sizes can increase the need for teachers — good or bad — leaving many students in the hands of less competent teachers. However, at some threshold class management becomes impossible, even for a good teacher, and the line is difficult to draw. Benefits may be different based upon students gender, preparation level of the student, social class, and also the preparation level of the teacher. More experienced teachers may be better able to cope with larger classes, and also more adept at using smaller class size to individualize their curriculum while still meeting benchmarks.

The benefits of small class sizes may be cumulative, even if the overall, measured year-to-year effects are small. That would explain such problems as the discrepancies between different grade levels in measured effects of class sizes. But Baker sees such shifts as based on micro rather than macro concerns “the increase in test scores is offset by other test score fluctuations that occur between enrollments of 20 and 25. The positive ratio for third grade students (rather than negative as for second graders) is likely due to the fact that increases in test scores to the right of enrollment threshold are smaller for third than for second graders and, on the average, are offset by other fluctuations” (Baker 2009, p.13).

Even in light of her research hypothesis and skeptical conclusions Baker admits there are some indications that class size has a demonstrable effect upon student achievement. “Findings of school non-participation and creation of enrollment cutoffs [merely] demonstrate the unanticipated consequences that a class-size reduction program based on financial incentives can create, and should be taken into account when designing future class-size reduction policies” (Baker 2009, p. 5; 3). Bakers research highlights a number of questionable policies of California school districts, such as shuttling excess students to overcrowded districts.

It is arguable that given the population and financial challenges of California at this time, mandatory class limitations may not be feasible, because the policies they spark to meet compliance are worse than higher levels of enrollment. It is also arguable, based on Bakers research that because of districts methods of achieving such benchmarks are often underhanded that the class size limits are not serving the populations the programs were designed to help. But that does not mean that class size reduction is not a laudable aim. At very least, the fact that larger class sizes may cause problems for some students should be more fully explored on a qualitative rather than a purely quantitative level, given the generalized categories of Bakers research, which only takes into consideration socioeconomic categorizations.

Baker admits that previous literature indicates that small class size has been supported for some children: it is possible to hypothesize that for ESL learners and students with learning disabilities, large classrooms do not serve their needs, and the poor and disadvantaged may get lost in large districts. The parts of Bakers research indicating that the overall effect of class reduction is not as large as one might expect on a general level often point to a failure of implementation, rather than a failure of class sizes to deliver upon their original pedagogical promises. Analysis of the benefits of class sizes for specific populations is still required, given the differentiation that exists in any school district and California in particular. The degree to which school districts can enforce smaller class sizes without busing overflows of students elsewhere must also.

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