Class Size and Adaptability
by Clarence Albert Newell - 1944
In the present study the criterion of adaptability is applied to class size for the first time. An answer is sought to the following question: As conditions and needs change, can teachers of small classes adapt teaching procedures to meet new needs more readily than can teachers of large classes?
DURING the past forty years numerous studies have been conducted to determine whether the number of pupils in a class has any appreciable effect upon educational outcomes.1 Most of these studies centered around the criterion of subject-matter achievement, and many of the more recent studies compared classes on pupil gains as measured by subject-matter tests. Results of the many studies are too conflicting to provide reliable evidence with regard to class size.
In the present study the criterion of adaptability is applied to class size for the first time. An answer is sought to the following question: As conditions and needs change, can teachers of small classes adapt teaching procedures to meet new needs more readily than can teachers of large classes? A study was made of relationship between class size and the various phases of the adaptation process: Invention of educational practices, early introduction of such practices into a few school situations, and diffusion of the practices into many school situations.
The laboratory work was done in four wealthy New Jersey communities with well-supported schools known to be highly adaptable. In each of the four school systems, small classes (fewer than 25 pupils), medium-sized classes (25 to 30 pupils), and large classes (more than 30 pupils) were studied. These groups were located in schools where classes tended to be uniform in size. Teachers in the classes studied had, for the most part, taught classes of about the same size over a period of years.
Classes included in the study were measured in terms of adaptability, using the Mort-Cornell Guide for Self-Appraisal of School Systems as the basic measuring instrument. The measures of adaptability were supplemented by measures of various factors known to be related to adaptability.
The results indicate statistically reliable differences between various sizes of classes on each of the three phases of adaptability; that is, teachers of the small classes seemed to adapt more readily to new conditions and needs than did teachers of larger classes. Small classes appear to be particularly useful in the early introduction of new educational practices.
The differences among sizes of classes on factors related to adaptability were for the most part very small. The greatest differences between small and large classes were concerned with community characteristics, school buildings, and teacher opinion. Large classes were located in communities and school buildings slightly superior to those where smaller classes were located. On the other hand, the smaller classes were slightly superior with respect to the opinions of teachers relative to what the schools should do. These differences were too small, however, to be statistically significant.
Results on the measures of adaptability were treated statistically to see whether they would reveal a critical level above which classes are so large that attention to individual needs is discouraged. The analyses showed greater differences between medium-sized and small classes than between large and medium-sized classes, and thus lend support to the hypothesis that a critical level exists.
In devising a test to measure the relationship between class size and invention, numerous observations were made relative to the ways in which new educational practices gradually develop and emerge. The conditions necessary for invention of improved ways of meeting needs are discussed and suggestions are made to assist students in locating new practices which have been invented in the classroom by creative teachers.
1 By CLARENCE ALBERT NEWELL, Ph.D. Teachers College, Columbia University, Contributions to Education, No. 894.