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Re: Three answers to questions posed to Dr. Bob West

A short note on the percentages:  Its interesting to see this figure from
the study--that the "Home and Family" variable was found to account for
49% of the effect on student performance.  Its not surprising, and
obviously an extremely important variable for every kid.  And its one that
families, neighbors, and whole towns need to work on together.  Yet its
one that's very hard to address within the context of the public school
system.  That leaves the other 51% that we can address.  So for the things
we can address relatively directly, 16% (=8%/51%) of the variation is due
to classroom size.  When there's such strong evidence for both of these
variables being important (teacher expertise and classroom size), it
remains essential for us to improve them both.

Mac Cantrell

On Mon, 1 Apr 2002, Gerald Weitz wrote:

> I asked Dr. West to present documentation on three questions.
> 1) "How does teacher quality affect student performance?"  Answer:  The
> National Commission on Teaching and America's Future (supported by the
> Rockefeller Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation), in a 1996 publication
> entitled "What Matters Most: Teaching and America's Future", refers to an
> oft quoted study by R.F. Ferguson, appearing in the Harvard Journal Of
> Legislation, 28(Summer, 1991), pp.465-498.  The reported study is of the
> factors that affect student performance in 900 school districts in the
> western U.S., when student performance in reading and mathematics, in
> grades 1-11, was factor analyzed for variables affecting student
> achievement.  There were three main factors identified:  Home and Family
> variables, Teacher Expertise Variables, and Class Size.
> The most significant was Home and Family, accounting for 49% of the affect
> (parents education, income level, language background and geographical
> location).  The next greatest factor was Teacher Expertise, accounting for
> 43% of the affect,as measured by teacher scores on licensure exams, degrees
> earned and experience in the classroom.  Class size accounted for 8% of the
> affect.
> Among the things that school districts can control, the affect of class
> size, therefore, has to be viewed in conjunction with other more
> significant factors such as teacher expertise.  Taken together, they are
> very important.
> 2) "Are there studies that demonstrate how the number of instructional
> hours or days affect student performance?"   Yes. ...In general, the more
> engaged time spent by students learning and practicing academic or other
> skill areas, the better their performance on assessments that measure those
> skills.  Students in other nations with which we are compared that attend
> school for more days generally do better on the International Mathematics
> and Science Studies.
> There may be many factors besides the number of days.... It is self evident
> that the more one practices the application of knowledge and skills the
> better one will probably score  on tests measuring the performance of
> the skills.
> 3. "Are there studies that show "ideal" class size?"  Not really.  There
> are too many variables to have a one size fits all class size.  One has to
> consider not only class size but teacher-student ratio.  The number of
> students in a group of learners is a relatively discrete thing.  But other
> factors have great affect on the teaching and learning outcomes of any
> given group.  The skill of the teacher is paramount.  And, there may be one
> or more teacher affecting outcomes, and there may be aides or team teaching
> arrangements within a given group.  There may be a mix of students within a
> group that vary a lot in terms of ability and disability, language and
> culture (American English or other), and as we say above, home and family
> factors .  ..and then a lot depends on  age.
> These lead to my (Weitz's) observations; 1) Moscow enjoys a tremendous
> demographic situation which according to experts (School Watch)  would lend
> itself to all area schools doing exceptionally well.  Over 50% of the
> nations' highest performing public school districts are in college towns.
> 2) Time or number of instructional days has a positive affect if not
> carried to an extreme. 167 rather than 180 instructional days is a
> disservice to students and many families.  3) Classroom size has the least
> to do with outcomes (8% of the affect). The district enjoys an extremely
> competent group of teachers and a great Home and Family variable.
> Since there will never be enough money, the district must not hold such
> programs as Votech, the alternative HS program, extracurricular programs,
> supplies to the classroom, summer reading and math programs hostage because
> of classroom size.  Classroom size must be determined by Bob West's
> suggested  variables.   Thanks Jerry

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