National pledges smaller class sizes

The Herald reports:

will reduce primary class sizes if it comes into power in 2020, leader Simon Bridges says.

The announcement to lift the number of primary school teachers in New Zealand – an issue which once badly damaged National – was the centrepiece of Bridges’ speech at his party’s annual conference this afternoon.

“All our kids should get the individual attention they deserve,” Bridges told an audience of about 600 party members at Skycity Conference Centre in Auckland.

“That’s why I want more teachers in our primary schools, to ensure smaller class sizes for our children.

“Schools currently get one teacher for every 29 nine and ten year olds. It’s lower than that for younger children.

“Those ratios should be reduced.” …

Bridges also said National wanted to improve the quality of early childhood education.

“Most centres do a good job of looking after our young children, but a few not doing good enough is a few too many in my book.

“We need to know what is happening in every early childhood centre in the country.”

National would demand the highest standards from ECE centres, he said.

I’d far rather money from Vote Education is spent on improving the quality of early childhood education and reducing primary school class sizes, than giving lawyers and accountants free degrees.

The early years of education are the most important, and that is where you can make the greatest difference for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. So National is saying lets target money there, while Labour is bribing tertiary students.

But while the focus on primary and early childhood education is welcome, smaller class sizes is not a silver bullet. In fact the impact on learning achievement is quite minor – assessed as 0.21 by Hattie. There are many many things that are more effective. I made this point in 2014 when Labour pledged smaller class sizes.

I suspect politicians focus on class sizes for two reasons. The first is it does have some benefit (all other things equal, a kid does better in a class of 15 vs 30, but the difference between say 23 and 25 is minor), but more it is something politicians can actually directly change. You can set class sizes through your funding. All the other impacts are not ones that can be set or changed so directly.

What are the factors that have the largest impact? The top 10 are:

  1. Collective teacher efficacy 1.57
  2. Self-reported grades 1.33
  3. Teacher estimates of achievement 1.29
  4. Cognitive task analysis 1.20
  5. Response to intervention 1.29
  6. Piagetian programs 1.28
  7. Jigsaw method 1.20
  8. Conceptual change programs 0.99
  9. Prior ability 0.95
  10. Strategy to integrate with prior knowledge 0.93

These are not as sexy as smaller class sizes, but they are more influential. Of course ideally it is not either/or. But National needs to do more than just promise smaller classes.

What is also interesting is the most important negative factors. They are:

  1. ADHD -0.90
  2. Deafness -0.61
  3. Boredom -0.49
  4. Depression -0.36
  5. Moving between schools -0.34

Some of those are not easy to change but the boredom one is interesting. If a kid is bored at school it massively impacts them.

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