Good teachers trump class size

Hiring (and supporting) better teachers is more important than keeping classes small, argues Jay Mathews on his Washington Post blog.

He suggests a thought experiment: Would you want your child “transferred to the school’s best teacher, an imaginative and energetic motivator” with 30 students in the class?

. . .  when the Center for Public Education examined 19 studies of class-size effects that met its research standards, it reached two interesting conclusions. First, most of the studies focused on kindergarten through third grade, and most of the beneficial effects of smaller classes seem to occur in those years, when students are learning to read. Spending money on class-size reduction for those kids makes sense, as several local school systems have shown.

Second, the studies showed little effect from class-size reduction unless the number of students was 20 or fewer, and little effect in middle or high schools.

High-quality schools in low-income neighborhoods typically focus on improving instruction, not on offering small classes.  Classes small enough to make a difference are too expensive.

Tennessee’s STAR study found significant, long-term benefits for students, especially blacks, in K-3 classes of 14 to 17 students.

However, when California reduced K-3 classes to 20 students, teacher quality declined, especially at schools serving low-income, minority students. That wiped out any benefits. A research consortium “found no relationship between statewide student achievement and statewide participation in class size reduction.” To keep classes small, schools are cutting funds for libraries, after-school programs and teacher training.

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