Great teachers can teach more students, even without raising class sizes

Emily Ayscue Hassel

Fordham released a paper by Michael Hansen projecting the impact on student learning if excellent eighth-grade teachers—those in the top 25 percent—were responsible for six or twelve more students per class.  He found that moving six students per class to the most effective eighth-grade science and math teachers would have an impact equivalent to removing the bottom 5 percent of teachers.

We imagine many teachers and parents reading that finding will still fret over the idea of increasing class sizes that much, even with great teachers.  So here’s some good news: Schools can give a lot more than six more students access to excellent teachers without actually raising class sizes.  And they can pay great teachers—or even all teachers—more by doing so.

The key is shifting to new school models that extend the reach of excellent teachers wisely.  At Public Impact, we’ve published many such models on the website www.OpportunityCulture.org, and we’ve honed them via our work with teams of teachers and administrators now implementing them in schools.

Sure, one way to extend the reach of excellent teachers is to simply increase their class sizes.  But none of the pilot schools’ design teams—which include teachers—have chosen this route alone. None have increased class sizes above national averages. Instead, all the school design teams so far have chosen team-based models that leave effective class sizes on par or smaller. (By “effective class size,” we mean the number of students actually with a teacher at one time.)

In most of these team-based models, schools are letting teachers add to their teaching teams new paraprofessionals, who save teachers time by doing administrative paperwork and overseeing skill practice, project work, and digital instruction.

This saved time lets teachers teach one or two more classes at the elementary level, or 50 percent more students at the secondary level, and still gain several hours of planning, team collaboration, and development time during the school day each week. Nearly all schools are designating leaders for these teams—teachers who have achieved outstanding results in the on-teacher-one-classroom mode and who also display leadership characteristics. 

In addition, putting excellent teachers and their teams in charge of students’ learning lets schools shift supplemental instruction specialists (except ESL and special needs) back into classroom teaching roles, with higher pay. Altogether, not only do great teachers reach 50 to 300 percent more students without increasing class sizes, they earn 10 to 50 percent more pay—and modeling indicates that 20 to 130 percent increases are possible if these models are implemented school wide.

Better student learning, more time to plan and collaborate within teaching teams, higher pay for teachers: What’s not to love? With Hansen’s paper adding evidence that students can benefit from increased access to excellent teachers, we hope teachers and school leaders everywhere will start adjusting schedules and roles to make it happen.

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