Small classes don’t raise achievement

Reducing class size is a waste of money, argue Lance Izumi and Rachel Chaney of the Pacific Research Institute. California reduced classes to 20 students in kindergarten through third grade 10 years ago, and legislators want to get down to 25 students in fourth through eighth grades.

A state-sponsored consortium of top research organizations analyzed the (class-size reduction) program and found no association between the total number of years a student had been in reduced size classes and differences in academic achievement. Further, there’s no evidence that CSR helps at upper grade levels.

California should invest in better training and higher standards for new teachers, they write.

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  1. superdestroyer says:

    The class size argument has been, is, and will always be about creating jobs for teachers. The smaller the class size, the higher demand for elementary school teachers.

    In the middle of the baby boom, the teacher unions never pushed for smaller class size. When the baby boom began to end and school district were faced with the prospoect of closing schools and laying off teachers, class size became important.

  2. There certainly is a class size effect in at least one case: a class of one. Homeschooled children considerably outperform children taught in a classroom by professional teachers, whether the class size is 15 or 50. However, I don’t think that is a result of the class size per se, but that homeschoolers are using more effective teaching methods that are impractical at any size class that has been tried in mainstream education. Everyone knows the Socratic method is more effective than lecturing – but with 15 kids in the room, you lecture and hope that a few minutes of question and answer will close the gap. Everyone knows that each kid learns at her own pace and in her own way, but with 15 kids in the room, individual learning can be at best a thin veneer over the one-size-fits-all lesson plan. Everyone knows that people learn far better when there’s a connection to people, things, or events in their lives, but only homeschooling parents can switch lesson plans around to take advanatage of that.

    As for why cutting class sizes by a third showed no effect, it required increasing the teacher staff by 50%, and not all of the additional ones were as good as the original group. I’ve had college classes of 150 with an excellent teacher, and classes of less than 20 with a poor teacher, and I learned more in the first case. As long as the teaching methods are based on lectures, or the lesson plans are non-individual, diluting teacher quality will hurt far more than smaller classes will help.

  3. reduced class sized may not be more beneficial for all kids. However, those kids who have a hard time speaking up, and those who NEED a bit more attention will benefit greatly… but why would schools ever do anything that benefits only about 10% of the kids? It’s just not feasable… than that’s why we homeschool.

  4. Robert Wright says:

    I know that teaching a class of 22 is easier on me than teaching a class of 34.

    Am I a better teacher when it’s easier? I think so.

    However, the research is pretty clear.

  5. alpinejewel says:

    I teach 4th grade in California. I can guarantee that I am a better teacher when I have 25 students compared with 36. I do not spend all of my time being a traffic cop. Since we have reduced class size at the upper grades in my school, test scores in those grades have improved. I would also like to point out that I have been teaching for 19 years and feel that I am a qualified teacher. I wish I knew who was doing the surveys, I would like to talk to them

  6. The reason why homeschooling is so effective is obvious and overlooked: Parental involvement. Parents who homeschool are by definition involved in their children’s education.

    Why do most charter schools have better performance? Again parental involvement. Parents who enroll their children in a charter school have shown at least some interest in their child’s education.

    I teach in a large suburban school district, majority minority. I just sent out a batch of progress reports. with over 100 students either failing or barely passing. (mainly due to not doing homework or classwork) I was contacted by five parents. On Friday in my sixth period class not one student turned in their homework. These things are not unrelated.

  7. I can’t believe that educated people actually fall for crap that states that small class sizes don’t work. Let’s see, meeting the needs of a few students versus meeting the needs of many. Modifications, attention, interaction…..all are greatly enhanced with less students.

    The problem is poor teachers, not class sizes. Stop making the two connected. And by the way, when you start actually caring and respecting education, you will begin to get the results you are looking for.

  8. Wayne Martin says:

    I looked into this topic a couple of years ago using the WEB as a source of information. While there are still no “well manicured” on-line “libraries” where one can obtain a both depth and breadth of material that is accessible to the general public, there is a lot of material about this topic to be found. It seems to group into two categories: 1) No clear correlation and 2) clear correlation.

    What did come out of the reading I did was that for underperforming kids in grades K-3, there was some value to be seen in smaller class sizes. This benefit seemed to disappear as the kids got older.

    What is clear from class size reduction (CSR) programs is that a lot of money has been spent with little to show for it. California passed a bond issue in the late ’90s to support this activity in K-3, but has never returned to the voters with any evidence that the money is buying anything in terms of aggregate performance of the states students.

  9. John Thacker says:

    Beyond a certain class size, it really doesn’t matter. Fifty and a hundred are basically identical. I’m not all that convinced that 30 and 40 are that different. When you start getting below numbers like 15, it makes a big difference because each student really can get individual attention. Expensive, though.

    Some of the studies suggest that smaller class sizes are most helpful in areas where behavior is bad, and that primarily because it decreases the number of fellow classmates whose education a particularly disruptive student harms.

  10. Coach Brown wrote:

    I can’t believe that educated people actually fall for crap that states that small class sizes don’t work.

    You mean like the educated people who sat through lecture classes of a hundred or two students?

    As Wayne pointed out there’s some measurable effect in the lower grades and that makes sense. Babies need individual attention and in the early grades that attention requirement may still be there, to a certain extent. But much beyond, I would guess, around ten years of age depending on the kid, the independence gene starts to kick in. Individual attention becomes a burden rather then a boon.

    The problem is poor teachers, not class sizes.

    The problem is that no differentiation is made between poor teachers and good teachers or even between excreable teachers and world-class teachers. Care to guess what sort of employees a workplace like that tends to attract and tends to retain?

    And by the way, when you start actually caring and respecting education, you will begin to get the results you are looking for.

    Oh, I think five hundred billion dollars a year ought to buy a bit of credibility, don’t you? If Americans didn’t care about and respect education we could find better ways to display that disdain then to fund it too the tune of five hundred billion dollars.

    No, the problem is that up until recently the paid experts insisted that if enough in the way of resources were shoveled into public education then good things would happen and we, the public, were willing to believe them, you. Good things didn’t happen so the experts are having their fingers pried back, one at a time, from their grip on the public education system. The completion of that task can’t come soon enough to suit me.

  11. Robert Wright says:

    Wayne, that was well put.

  12. Tim from Texas says:

    There will always be resistance by teachers to larger classes until a real curriculum is forced upon them. Teachers constantly grade homework, give a test of some sort at least every week or so. All of that eats up too much time. It takes time away from so many things, such as daily preparation and the like. They don’t even realize that no curriculum is the problem, and the same is true for the parents as well. With a set, agreed upon curriculum a class of 60 is no problem.

    By a set curriculum, I mean one that all must follow. A curriculum that designates All things from a to z from K to 12, that is , amount of test, amount of homework, when and how they are graded and so on. There is no reason, for example, for more than 5 tests in one year for 9th graders. Moreover, their entire grade should be based on those 5 tests. This frees up teachers for preparations and puts preasure on them to make excellent preparations.

  13. I don’t want to come across as insensitive, but as somebody who teaches classes of around 240 students each, I do have a hard time working up a lot of sympathy for teachers whose classes number around 35 and want smaller classes.

    35? I’d kill for a class of just a hundred!