Reducing class size in an era of reduced state budgets

16 Jun

In Battle of the studies: Does class size matter? Moi said:

There is an ongoing discussion or battle about whether class size matters in effective learning. Class size reduction theory has both supporters and skeptics. Leonie Hamson writes in the Washington Post article, 7 Class Size Myths — And the Truth There is of course, a contrary opinion. The Center for American Progress has a report by Mathew M. Chingos, The False Promise of Class-Size Reduction

In the Executive Summary Chingos reports:

There is surprisingly little high-quality research, however, on the effects of class size on student achievement in the United States. The credible evidence that does exist is not consistent, and there are many low-quality studies

with results all over the map. The most encouraging results for CSR come from a single experiment conducted in the 1980s, which found that a large reduction in class size in the early grades increased test scores, particularly among low-income and African American students. But evaluations of large-scale CSR policies in California and Florida have yielded much less positive results, perhaps because of the need to hire so many (inexperienced and potentially less effective) new teachers.

Chingos does not believe the advocates for smaller class size have made their case.

Suzy Kihmm reports in the Washington Post article, Study: Class size doesn’t matter:

Two Harvard researchers looked at the factors that actually improve student achievement and those that don’t. In a new paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research, Will Dobbie and Roland Freyer analyzed 35 charter schools, which generally have greater flexibility in terms of school structure and strategy. They found that traditionally emphasized factors such as class size made little difference, compared with some new criteria:

We find that traditionally collected input measures — class size, per pupil expenditure, the fraction of teachers with no certification, and the fraction of teachers with an advanced degree — are not correlated with school effectiveness. In stark contrast, we show that an index of five policies suggested by over forty years of qualitative research — frequent teacher feedback, the use of data to guide instruction, high-dosage tutoring, increased instructional time, and high expectations — explains approximately 50 percent of the of the variation in school effectiveness.

As state and local budgets shrink, class size reduction is shelved in favor of increasing class size.

Gregory Kristof writes in the Huffington Post article, Class Size Increases Should Focus On Higher Grades, Smaller Classes Critical In Early Years: Study:

Small class sizes are crucial for learning at the younger grades, but may be less important as children mature, according to a new study.

The report, called “Smart Class-Size Policies for Lean Times” and released in March by the Southern Regional Educational Board, comes as state education departments have repeatedly cut costs by increasing class sizes, and when critics are questioning the significance of small classes and the success of liberal education reform policies.

Complicating matters is the high cost of reducing class size — one of the most expensive education reforms. Lowering the nationwide average K-12 class size would cost $10 billion a year, the report finds. Furthermore, decreasing class size would require more teacher positions to be filled, and could lower average teacher quality in the process.

Noel Sheppard, for instance, notes in a NewsBusters op-ed that while the nationwide teacher to student ratio has increased over the past decades, test scores have not improved dramatically. Newsbusters is a project of the Media Research Center

“That’s not something the Left and their media minions care to discuss as political leaders try to deal with budget deficits by cutting payrolls,” he writes. “Yet the solution we constantly hear for declining test scores and graduation rates is ever more teachers.”

Yet the SREB report cautions against expanding class sizes at the lower levels, where effects of class size on student achievement are greater.

Here is the conclusion from the report, “Smart Class-Size Policies for Lean Times” and released by the Southern Regional Educational Board:


Some policy-makers and education leaders may be tempted to increase class size to cut costs. If cost cutting is the only goal, they should focus on the point in the K-12 pipeline where class-size reduction has not yet proven necessary to support academic performance — high school. Research clearly shows that students benefit most from smaller classes in the early grades, especially
kindergarten through grade three. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has even weighed in on this point, arguing that if states do decide to relax class-size policies to save money, they should do so in high schools, not the early grades. The following recommendations can help policymakers move toward smart class-size policies:
Maintain rigorous and enforceable class size policies in the early grades:

Policymakers and education leaders should resist the urge to relax small-class policies for early grades students, even when budgets are tight….

Monitor individual student achievement and engagement:

Policy-makers and education leaders should insist that schools, districts and the state monitor individual student performance and behavior in grades where class sizes are increased, to prevent increased student failure that could result from larger classes.
States should commit to follow-up research whenever they alter their class-size policies to ensure their students are not affected adversely. If increases are needed, the best approach is stepwise, incremental change rather than a large, one-step increase. It
should be coupled with continuous monitoring of States also need to monitor any changes they make in student performance after they implement changes in class size. …

Catherine Rampell wrote in the 2009 New York Times article, Class Size Around the World:

Note that some of the countries with some of the world’s highest achieving student bodies — like Korea and Japan — have the biggest class sizes. Perhaps this has to do with cultural differences; societies with Confucian roots may have stricter hierarchies within the classroom, so perhaps it’s easier (or more expected) for a single teacher to manage a bigger group of students. But presumably there are other explanations, too.

Rampell includes charts from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in her article.

Something to think about.

Here is the citation:

Getting Beneath the Veil of Effective Schools: Evidence from New York City

Will Dobbie, Roland G. Fryer, Jr

NBER Working Paper No. 17632

Issued in December 2011

NBER Program(s):   ED   LS                                                                                                                                      You may purchase this paper on-line in .pdf format from ($5) for electronic delivery.

Dr. Wilda says this about that ©

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