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Private schools keep class sizes low. Kids and teachers in public schools deserve the same benefit

Private schools keep class sizes low. Kids and teachers in public schools deserve the same benefit
Students line up on the playground at Dolores Huerta Elementary in Los Angeles before the first say of school on Aug. 14. (Los Angeles Times)

To the editor: As someone who has taught at both public and private schools, I can attest to the positive effect that small class size has on students.

In the public high school where I taught, 37 students in a history class was common, and we had five classes a day. It was easy for students to be anonymous in those large groups and fall so far behind that it was impossible to catch up. Maintaining classroom discipline sometimes became the goal of the day.

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Later, I taught in two private schools. What a difference numbers can make. My middle school classes had between 12 and 16 students, all of whom worked hard and did their homework (granted, their parents were greatly involved in their education). The number of students in the room affected their attitude toward what was going on there. If someone was falling behind or struggling with anything, I could deal with it quickly.

The students in a small class actually get to know each other and can work together much better than in large classes. This kind of socialization that has been a goal of public schools for decades is sorely missing today in districts like Los Angeles Unified.

We must share the advantages that privileged children get with our public school students. Our country will be much better off if we do.

Kris Sullivan, Los Angeles

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To the editor: Although small classes are optimal for learning, the presence of an effective teacher produces greater benefits than having fewer students, according to the latest research on the matter.

In fact, the U.S. Department of Education found a weak relationship between achievement and a reduction in class size. To date, there is no formula to determine what size is most conducive to learning.

Walt Gardner, Los Angeles

The writer taught for 28 years in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

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To the editor: Way back in 1948-49, a social studies teacher at the middle school I was attending induced such a large number of students to take Latin that they had to form two beginning classes. As a result, I was in the smallest class that I had ever attended in a public school; the back half of the classroom was empty.

I worked harder than I ever had, trying to shine for my teacher.

The next year some students must have dropped out, because the two Latin classes were combined. I found myself in a seat in the back of the room, the excitement all gone. I studied just enough to pass.

Ruth Persky, Los Angeles

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To the editor: If your boss gave you 15 hours of work to do in eight hours, how would you cope? Would you stay late to finish, or would you cut corners?

When I was an English teacher, it was clear to me that for students to improve their writing skills, they had to practice their writing, which they and their parents expected me to thoroughly evaluate. If I had three classes of 25 students, and each had to write a two-page paper, you can see how much reading I had to do after 3 p.m.

What if class size goes up to 35? What if the two-page essay becomes three pages? And how much less comfortable is a room with 35 students than one with 25?

Now you see why your kid comes home and complains about school.

Michael Katzman, Big Bear Lake

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