March 3, 2011

Larger Classes Would Not Help

With all of the issues with mainstreaming deaf and hard of hearing students I have come across and mentioned here, it would make things worse if the typical class size were to increase by 4 or 5 more students, right?

This is what Bill Gates proposed. In an article from Washington Post, he discussed how smaller classes do not seem to be producing enough student achievement and that instead we should give the best teachers the larger classes. Bill Gates believes that "the single most decisive factor in student achievement is excellent teaching" (Washington Post, 2011).

Here is what he proposed:

One approach is to get more students in front of top teachers by identifying the top 25 percent of teachers and asking them to take on four or five more students. Part of the savings could then be used to give the top teachers a raise. (In a 2008 survey funded by the Gates Foundation, 83 percent of teachers said they would be happy to teach more students for more pay.) The rest of the savings could go toward improving teacher support and evaluation systems, to help more teachers become great. (Washington Post, 2001)

I think Bill Gates is forgetting the long hours and hard work teachers face when managing a classroom of at least twenty different students. Throw in students with special needs and the teacher will face even more challenges as she or he try to properly educate every student with different needs and ways of learning. Even if the teacher is known to be excellent, adding more students to their classroom might make them less effective. They will have to spend more time grading papers, catching up on extra paperwork, holding parent conferences, attending IEP meetings, managing a larger classroom, and etc.

For the deaf or hard of hearing students, more students in the classroom would make it more challenging for them.

How are they to keep up with everything being said in a classroom of 30 or 35 students? There would have to be a lot of accommodations provided and hard work from the teacher and student to ensure they are getting the same type of education as everyone else. For example, ideally, the desks would be arranged in a circular or U shape, so that all the students can face each other, making it easier for the deaf or hard of hearing student to see everyone. This would be hard to accomplish with 25 or so students, especially if the classroom is small.

How will the teacher be able to attend to the deaf or hard of hearing child? If they do not have a para-professional, I ask teachers to observe the student and make sure he or she is understanding everything, to double check with the student, to make sure their hearing aid or FM systems are working, or if they have an interpreter, to make sure that the interpreter is doing what he or she is supposed to be doing and to make sure the student is utilizing the interpreter appropriately. How would this be possible for even an excellent teacher to do all of these things I ask of her or him, when they have to manage a large class of 30 or so students? The deaf or hard of hearing student will often not be the only student in the classroom with special needs. In reality, teachers without para-professionals or teacher aides do not have the time or energy to check on the deaf or hard of hearing student and to make sure his or her needs are met. I often hear from teachers, "Well, I don't remember because I was busy trying to manage the rest of the class (29 3rd grade students)." "I wish I could tell you, but I have been so busy trying to get all of the other things everyone else has asked me to do." "I think her hearing aid is working, I asked her and she said---Jason! Do not pull on her hair like that! Uh, I gotta go." "She seems to be fine. She is very quiet, keeps to herself, gets all of her work done." Some teachers are tired, overwhelmed, or unwilling to really check on the deaf or hard of hearing student because of all of the other demands they are asked to meet. Sometimes they are vague in their answers, as if they just don't have the energy or patience to deal with the deaf or hard of hearing student's hearing needs. I can't say that I blame them, especially if their class size were to increase by 4 or 5 students.

If I were to be at a meeting of twenty eight people, I can't begin to tell you how exhausting it would be for me to try to keep up with everything that is being said. I lean in, strain my neck, stay focused trying to read lips and to look at each speaker's facial expressions. CART could help some, but I don't want to have to look back and forth at the person and the words on a screen. Imagine if the meeting were to increase to thirty-three people. Then imagine if I were told that I will have to sit in and listen and pay attention to what is being said for at least six hours throughout the day. It would not be fun.

Please read this article called An Open Letter to Bill Gates: Higher Class Size Will Drive Teachers Out. The author does an excellent job explaining why this would be a bad idea.



  1. Exactly. Even the Deaf students with CIs have hard time following the materials in the larger classrooms.

    I was a very active participant at an oral deaf school and then went mainstreaming at high school...large classrooms were a shock. Remember, in late 1970's and early 1980's, no interpreters and I had to ask students if they'd not mind taking notes for me. All of the sudden I became a quiet daydreaming student.

    My kids shared the same experiences... even they have excellent auditory skills.

    Deaf schools provide smaller class ratios to ensure that Deaf children get full access to the communication.

  2. I was a daydreamer, even in class if theres no notes to copy down and no visual inputs, myself in the mainstream.

  3. Btw, I never had notetakers in school, but that didnt matter because i like copying notes, it kept me from being very bored. I did not have full access in communication and writing notes kept me sane.

  4. The UK is against larger classes, you cannot expect one tutor can teach in excess of 30 children and expect they can be effective, or even identifying and supporting the lesser able. Years ago children sat in silence and the teacher ruled the class, today kids rule the class and choose if they want to participate or not. Also in the UK paperwork often means the tutor actually TEACHING all the time is a rarity, most are form filling and doing paperwork whilst 'helpers' hold the fort. I suss Bill wants to teach our kids with his computers...

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  6. Having never taught in a regular or special ed k-12 classroom, Bill Gates needs to stick with what he knows; building computers and giving out money. I teach in a deaf school, and my largest HS class is only 6 students. At the end of the period, I am exhausted. I spend a lot of time on classroom management; I can't even begin to imagine what a regular classroom teacher has to go through with 25-30 students. Plus, I still get to sit with my kids individually to meet certain needs that they have.


Keep it civil.