Is a small school better for students than small class size?

12 Jan

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—-and-the.html 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

Gina Jordan reported in the State Impact article, Why Small Schools Might Be Better For Students Than Small Classes:

Now, an analysis by government watchdog Florida Taxwatch finds that small classes do make a difference in outcomes for kids in kindergarten through 3rd grade – but not in higher grades. The report’s author, Bob Nave, says the state is better off focusing on smaller schools, like SAS, rather than small classes.

“It’s fairly common sense that smaller classes should result in improved student performance,” Nave says. “The problem is the research just doesn’t back that up.”

The group compiled research showing students in smaller schools do better in math and reading, have fewer behavior problems, and participate in more extracurricular activities. They’re also more likely to graduate.

Nave says the state was actually on a path toward having smaller schools in 2000, when the Florida Legislature passed a law limiting the size of new schools under construction.  Then, the class size amendment passed.

“The Legislature was forced not only to fund small schools, but now they had to fund small classes,” Nave says. “When one looks at the amount of money that was projected for school construction, it became clear that the Legislature could not do both.”

So lawmakers repealed the school size law to focus on class size……                                     

See, New evidence that small schools work?

Here are the conclusions and policy implications from Smaller Schools, Not Smaller Classes:


Based on a literature review, the findings of studies analyzing the effects of school size on student achievement, student behavior, curriculum, economies of scale, and teacher quality suggest the following recurring themes:

  • Student academic achievement is higher in small schools, and this is especially true for minority and low-income students.
  • A greater percentage of students in small schools participate in extracurricular activities, and greater participation is associated with a variety of positive outcomes, including: higher self-esteem, higher educational aspirations, less delinquency, and greater involvement in community activities as an adult.
  • Small schools offer a climate that is more conducive to learning.
  • The cost per student is generally higher in a small school; however, once the size of a school exceeds some optimal level, the cost per student begins to increase, not decrease.
  • Although large schools generally offer a wider range of courses than small schools, there is no reliable relationship between school size and the quality of curriculum.
  • Large schools have an advantage over small schools in terms of teacher qualifications.
  • There is no clear agreement among researchers and educators about what constitutes a “small” school or a “large” school. What is considered to be a large school to one researcher may be considered a small school to another.

Policy Implications

The research suggests that two U-shaped relationships exist with respect to school size, one for student achievement and one for cost efficiency. In both relationships, there is a point at which the positive benefits associated with school size begin to diminish.

This suggests that there is an optimal size for public schools in Florida, above or below which produces diminishing returns in terms of student achievement and cost efficiency. An optimal school size could be calculated that represents the range in the number of students in which school size continues to show a positive relationship between student achievement and cost efficiency. Andrews, et al. (2002), reviewed a number of production function studies and found some evidence that moderately sized elementary schools (300-500 students) and high schools (600- 900 students) may optimally balance economies of size with the negative effects of large schools.

The Florida Legislature recognized the benefits associated with small school size and, in 2000, enacted legislation that required all plans for new educational facilities to be constructed to plans for small chools.

Small schools were defined as follows:

  • Elementary schools—student population of not more than 500 students;
  • Middle schools—student population of not more than 700 students;
  • High schools—student population of not more than 900 students;
  • Combination (K-8) schools—student population of not more than 700 students; and
  • Combination (K-12) schools—student population of not more than 900 students.

The establishment of enrollment limits for new school construction by the

Legislature was a responsible action supported by a substantial body of research demonstrating the positive benefits of small school size. The voters, however, put the Legislature in a difficult position in 2002 with the passage of the constitutional amendment establishing class size limits. This forced the Legislature to fund both small schools and small class sizes. Public Education Capital Outlay (PECO) funds, the primary source of funding for new educational facility construction, decreased from $807.0 million in fiscal year 2002-03 to $752.4 million in fiscal year 2003- 04 and no significant increase in PECO revenues was projected over the short term.

With insufficient revenues to fund both small schools and small classes, the Legislature acted responsibly when it repealed the requirements for small school construction in 2003. This is a good example of a popular initiative trumping a sound public policy that is based upon a competent and substantial body of

empirical research…..

The battle between those who say class size matters and those who say it does not continues to simmer.


Reducing class size in an era of reduced state budgets

Battle of the studies: Does class size matter?

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