FACT CHECK: Class Size Matters

HASLAM RHETORIC: Class Size Doesn’t Matter

Gov. Bill Haslam says class size doesn’t matter. “Most studies have shown that class size is not as direct a relationship to achievement as people have thought in the past, that having a great teacher with 25 students is better than having a mediocre teacher with 18 students.” [Chattanooga Times Free Press, 6/1/11]

»   Is the hunt for “great teachers” an implication that the majority of Tennessee teachers are not great — regardless of classroom size?

 

REALITY: Class Size Matters

A Study of 900,000 Students Over 70 Years. The seminal study on the effect of class size in education is Meta-Analysis of Research on the Relationship of Class-Size Achievementpublished in 1978 by the Laboratory of Educational Research at University of Colorado. The study is based on “data from a total of 900,000 pupils spanning 70 years research in more than a dozen countries.” [“Meta-Analysis of Research on the Relationship of Class-Size and Achievement,” pg. 31, Laboratory of Educational Research at the University of Colorado, 9/1978, accessed 6/1/11]

SIGNIFICANT FINDINGS

»   Reduced class-size can be expected to produce increased academic achievement. [“Meta-Analysis of Research on the Relationship of Class-Size and Achievement,” pg. 8, accessed 6/1/11]

»   The major benefits from reduced class-size are obtained when class size is reduced below 20 pupils. [“Meta-Analysis of Research on the Relationship of Class-Size and Achievement,” pg. 9, accessed 6/1/11]

 

Tennessee was the starting point for modern push for smaller classrooms. It began with Gov. Lamar Alexander and the Tennessee’s Project STAR (Student/Teacher Achievement Ratio). The Brookings Institute called Tennessee’s Student Teacher Achievement Ratio, or STAR, “the most influential and credible study of CRS (class room size).” Conducted in Tennessee during the late 1980s, in this study, students and teachers were randomly assigned to a small class, with an average of 15 students, or a regular class, with an average of 22 students. [Brookings Institute, 5/11/11

SIGNIFICANT FINDINGS

»   Smaller Class Sizes Improved Achievement by 32%. This large reduction in class size (7 students, or 32 percent) was found to increase student achievement by an amount equivalent to about 3 additional months of schooling four years later. [Quarterly Journal of Economics, 6/1997]

»   Minority Students Doubled Achievement. Smaller class sizes produced “substantial improvement in early learning and cognitive studies and that the effect of small class size on the achievement of minority children was initially about double that observed for majority children. [“The Tennessee Study of Class Size in the Early Grades,” 1995, accessed 6/1/11]

»   Small Class Sizes Produce Lasting Effects.Children who were originally enrolled in smaller classes continued to perform better than their grade-mates (whose school experience had begun in larger classes) when they were returned to regular-sized classes in later grades.” [“The Tennessee Study of Class Size in the Early Grades,” 1995, accessed 6/1/11]

»   In Tennessee, Smaller Class Sizes Have Paid For Themselves. Education cost-benefit analysis expert Alan B. Krueger estimated that the return on the investment in smaller class sizes in Tennessee was slightly bigger (6 percent) than the costs of implementing the program. [Quarterly Journal of Economics, 6/1997]

 




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