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NCTE Guideline

Statement on Class Size and Teacher Workload: Secondary

Prepared by the NCTE Secondary Section, 1990

The Secondary Section of the National Council of Teachers of English recommends that schools, districts, and states adopt plans and implement activities resulting in class sizes of not more than 20 and a workload of not more than 80 for English language arts teachers by the year 2000.

Effective learning demands opportunities for students to become actively involved in their education, and demands many roles for their teachers: teacher as facilitator, as enabler, as empowerer--not only as lecturer and transmitter of knowledge. These opportunities and roles cannot be achieved when teachers are faced with large classes and heavy workloads.

  • A teacher who faces 25 students in a class period of 50 minutes has no more than 2 minutes, at best, per pupil for one-to-one interaction during any period.
  • The greater the number of students in a class, the fewer the opportunities for students to participate orally.
  • The larger the number of students in a class, the greater the amount of time devoted to classroom management rather than instruction.
  • The larger the class size, the less likely teachers are to develop lessons encouraging higher-level thinking.
  • Teachers of larger classes are more likely to spend less time with each student paper, and to concentrate on mechanics rather than on style and content.

Policymakers must realize that when a teacher spends 20 minutes reading, analyzing, and responding to each paper for a class of 25 students, the teacher must have 500 minutes for those processes alone. A teacher with 125 students who spends only 20 minutes per paper must have at least 2500 minutes, or a total of nearly 42 hours, to respond to each assignment. Therefore, responding to one paper per week for each of their 125 students requires English teachers to work over 80 hours a week.

Simply reducing class size alone does not necessarily result in improved achievement when instructional methods do not change. Therefore, attention to staff development while addressing class-size reduction goals will assure maximum benefits for students.

Researchers have identified the following encouraging results from reducing class size and improving instructional methods:

  • Smaller classes result in increased teacher-student contact.
  • Students in smaller classes show more appreciation for one another and more desire to participate in classroom activities.
  • In smaller classes, more learning activities take place.
  • Smaller classes foster greater interaction among students, helping them understand one another and increasing their desire to assist one another.
  • Smaller classes allow for potential disciplinary problems to be identified and resolved more quickly.
  • Smaller classes result in higher teacher morale and reduced stress.
  • Fewer retentions, fewer referrals to special education, and fewer dropouts are the ultimate rewards of class-size reduction.

The Secondary Section recommends the following five-year plan:

  1. Establish a goal to reduce each English language arts class to not more than 20 students and to limit each language arts teacher's workload to not more than 80 students. Districts may demonstrate progress toward this goal in a variety of ways.
  2. Write a plan for ongoing staff development to assist teachers as they modify instructional techniques to take advantage of reduced class size. These efforts may include such experiences as conference attendance, inservice courses, college courses, teacher support groups, and writing projects.
  3. Collect evidence of support for teacher examination, development, and implementation of effective classroom practices that increase the frequency and quality of teacher-student interactions intended to improve students' language competency.
  4. Develop a timeline with annual goals and a report of annual accomplishments.
  5. Seek a statement of support for the plan from the local board of education and the administrators and teachers involved.

"No football coach in his right mind would try to teach 150 players one hour per day and hope to win the game on Friday night. No, the team is limited to 40 or 50 highly motivated players, and the coach has three or four assistants to work on the many skills needed to play the game. The 'student- teacher' ratio is maybe 15:1. But the English teacher--all alone--has 150 'players' of the game of composition (not to mention literature, language, and the teaching of other matters dropped into the English curriculum by unthinking enthusiasts)."

--John C. Maxwell

"The way to learn a language is to breathe it in. Soak it up. Live it."

--Doris Lessing

The first curriculum priority is language. Our use of complex symbols separates human beings from all other forms of life. Language provides the connecting tissue that binds society together, allowing us to express feelings and ideas, and powerfully influence the attitudes of others. It is the most essential tool for learning . . . Language . . . is the means by which all other subjects are pursued.

--Ernest L. Boyer

"High schools exist to develop students' powers of thought, taste, and judgment . . . to help them with these uses their mind. Such undertakings cannot be factory-wrought, for young people grow in idiosyncratic, variable ways, often unpredictably."

--Theodore R. Sizer

 "Acquiring language; improving one's ability to listen, speak, read, and write; achieving full literacy--these are the tasks of a lifetime. They are also indispensable for a fully human life, a lifetime in which learning never stops."

--Geraldine Van Doren

This position statement may be printed, copied, and disseminated without permission from NCTE.

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