The Harbinger Online

Larger Class Sizes Will Hurt Middle Schoolers

Despite parent protests and student outrage, the school board’s decision is final, and Mission Valley Middle School will close its doors forever at the end of this year, sending most would-be attendees to Indian Hills Middle School next fall.

Although combining MVMS and IHMS will reduce unnecessary district spending, one huge middle school, as opposed to two medium-sized schools, will create a whole new range of challenges for students and teachers.

The average enrollment of MVMS and IHMS this year is 471 students for each school. Closing MVMS and sending the students that would go there to IHMS will put the enrollment of IHMS at over 800 students for the 2011-2012 school year, according to the SMSD Enrollment Summary. This will put the average class size at 25-30 students, a number far too high for effective learning. Teacher interaction and teaching style are just a few of the aspects that are affected.

With teachers responsible for up to 180 students each, there is no way they will be able to devote the time necessary to get to know and help out each student. Knowing each student’s strengths and weaknesses is key in helping each individual student succeed. A strong teacher-student relationship is key to effective learning. If a student is having trouble with a certain concept, he or she must feel confident enough to be able to approach the teacher and ask for help. The teacher then must be able to help the student in a way that works well for that student based on how they learn. With larger classes, there isn’t enough time for substantial one-on-one interaction with each student during a 45 minute class.

The transition from elementary school to middle school brings on huge changes in a child’s education, and many new students need help dealing with the concept of eight different classes and the increased load of homework.

“There are always some students who start out not doing any homework at all, either because they aren’t used to it or because they get overwhelmed,” former MVMS counselor Trudy Vande Kamp said.

If a teacher does not have the time to help students who are falling through the cracks, many will never learn to correct these issues before entering high school. If a student never does assignments and the teacher never brings them aside to talk about it or help them because that teacher has too many other responsibilities, the student will get into the mentality that not doing homework is acceptable.

However, when this student arrives at high school they will encounter multiple problems. For one thing, they will not have the built-in study habits necessary to succeed in advanced classes. Also, the student will start out high school already behind from not learning what they were supposed to in middle school. Middle school teachers must have enough time to meet with students like this, but if they have 180 essays to grade and enter in the computer, that time might not be available.

Not only will teachers have to change the way they devote their time, but many will also be faced with the problem of changing the way they teach certain concepts. With overcrowded classrooms, new and more dynamic teaching strategies and techniques cannot be implemented. According to a 2009 study by Purdue University, hand-on activities like building models or playing educational games have been proven to increase retention and understanding of ideas. These activities can be more difficult in a larger classroom. For example, Socratic circles would not be as effective with a huge class due to the fact that there is not enough time for each student to fully voice their opinion and contribute a substantial amount to the conversation.

In addition to academic development, middle school is also a critical time in children’s social development. There are lots of adolescents that struggle to deal with the social atmosphere of middle school as it is, and the increased size of the grade will make it much more overwhelming. After all, going from a grade size of 60 students in elementary school to over 800 in middle school is a drastic change.

Another major issue of larger class size is the behavioral aspect. Middle school classes often get off topic and out of hand, simply because many students have not yet matured and often prioritize socializing before school. With more students this problem will just become more evident. Teachers will waste even more time than before simply trying to get their classes under control.

By closing MVMS, the district is already saving a substantial amount of money, not only from not having to run the building anymore, but also from not having to pay a second principal, custodian, and administrative staff.

However, the money saved by not having to pay as many teachers is not worth the problems that would arise from this action. SMSD should hire as many teachers as needed to keep IHMS class sizes at manageable levels next year. Although it will cost a bit more, the long-term benefits are far too important to jeopardize.

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