What is a "Just-Right" Class Size in Public Schools?
This post is adapted from my book, A Parent's Guide to Public Education in the 21st Century, now available in print and Kindle versions.
Class size matters. Class size matters because it is an issue that impacts the lives of the children in the classroom, the work load of the teacher and the school budget. Teachers and their representatives argue for smaller class sizes, while school boards try to balance parent and teacher desires for small classes, with the demands of keeping the budget under control. Apparently, private schools think class size matters. They advertise small class size in an effort to attract students to their schools.
Intuitively, most parents and teachers think class size matters, but from a research standpoint the impact of class size has been harder to pin down. At the heart of the argument is the question, “Do the academic gains achieved through smaller class sizes justify the cost of hiring more teachers to accommodate those lower class sizes?” Some education reformers have even suggested that children would be better off if schools would identify their best teachers and then pay those teachers more to accept more students in their classes.
A research study done in Tennessee is considered the gold standard of class size studies because of its rigorous experimental design. This so-called STAR study(1995) found that students in small classes learned more than students in larger classes and were more likely to complete school and attend college, but those small classes were so small that the STAR study simply rekindled the cost/benefit debate.
More recently, Northwestern University professor Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach published a study through the National Education Policy Centerthat summarized what we know about class size. Considering all the research as a whole Schanzenbach concluded that
· Class size is an important determinant of student outcomes, and one that can be directly determined by policy.
· The evidence suggests that increasing class size will harm not only children’s test scores in the short run, but also their long-run human capital formation. Money saved today by increasing class sizes will result in more substantial social and educational costs in the future.
· The payoff from class-size reduction is greater for low-income and minority children, while any increases in class size will likely be most harmful to these populations.
· Policymakers should carefully weigh the efficacy of class-size policy against other potential uses of funds. While lower class size has a demonstrable cost, it may prove the more cost-effective policy overall (NEPC, 2014).
So, class size does matter and it matters especially for low-income and minority children and it is likely to be worth the taxpayers’ money to attempt to keep Russ on Reading: What is a "Just-Right" Class Size in Public Schools?: