15 November 2010

Highly Accomplished Teachers (HATS) vs. Smaller Class Sizes...

The age old debate: smaller classes or better teachers. The argument in effect pits teachers against bureaucrats. Teachers will consistently argue that smaller class sizes will lead to better student outcomes. However, the bureaucrats will tell you that creating more effective teachers is the key to better outcomes. For the bureaucrats, the simple rationale is that it does not matter how many students are in a class but rather how good the teacher is at engaging their students and imparting the knowledge and content required.

The bureaucratic argument is now encapsulated in New South Wales as a program called Highly Accomplished Teachers (HATS). This has most recently been supported by the Grattan Institute which has argued that a 10 per cent increase in teacher effectiveness would translate into a AUD 90 billion increase in Australian GDP by 2050.

The NSW Teachers Federation argues that the report is based on non-Australian data and is therefore not transferable to the Australian context. This may or may not be true, but one would expect that if an argument was being made on the basis of impacts to the Australian context then the data being used needs to be Australian sourced. Yet, even so, the Federation is expecting that most parents will be sympathetic to the argument that smaller class sizes mean more individual attention to their children. This is not going to be a hard sell to most parents.

The HATS program offers HATS six-figure salaries and requires them to mentor other teachers in order that those teachers become HATS themselves (sans the six-figure salary though). The program is set to place 100 HATS in NSW schools. Unfortunately, there are only 26 HATS currently serving in NSW schools.

Personally, I think that the optimum outcome here would be programs to improve the effectiveness of teachers while simultaneously reducing class sizes. This is an outcome that deals with the best of both worlds.

But that's just me.

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