The "Smaller Class Size" Argument

Smaller class size increases learning and success.

Posted Aug 15, 2011

Wouldn't it be great if all kids had their own teacher?  One-on-one instruction for everyone.   Yes, in a perfect world, this is what we would choose.  Alas, we are not in a perfect world - we have school overcrowding, elimination of recess time, underpaid and overworked teachers...the list goes on and on. 

But smaller class size - can't we do something about that?

Smaller class size is significantly correlated with achievement, according to education professors and National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) data (Lubienski, et al. 2008).  No, wait a second - an economist found that class size wasn't correlated with achievement (Hoxby, 2000).  But wait, smaller class size is correlated with greater learning efficacy, even as early as Kindergarten (Zvoch, et al. 2008).  And just changing class size - just class size, other factors aside - makes a difference (Toppo, 2008).

So why haven't we worked towards a smaller class size?  Smaller class size is more expensive.  More classroom space and more teachers are needed.  And in today's economic climate, smaller class size seems further out of reach than ever.  When's the last time you saw a school system jump for joy at the prospect of building more schools and hiring more teachers?  How about a school system who has seen their budget slashed in half? 

Whitehurst and Chingos, in "Class Size: What Research Says and What it Means for State Policy" (2011), write:

"When school finances are limited, the cost-benefit test any educational policy must pass is not "Does this policy have any positive effect?" but rather "Is this policy the most productive use of these educational dollars?"

So even if smaller class size does positively affect students, it apparently is not the most productive use of educational dollars.  What is your thought on that?

What are the options? Private schools tend to have a smaller class size, but they can be expensive.  There are also charter schools - public schools that also tend to have a smaller class size - but space is limited.

Is this something so far out of reach that it has been filed into the category of "something we can wish for someday"?  What are our alternatives in the public school? 

There are organizations such as http://www.classsizematters.org/ working towards smaller class size becoming a reality.   And could it be possible that smaller class size is actually more cost-effective in the long run?   Kids may be more likely to graduate, and teacher turnover may be reduced.  But long-term may not be the first thing on a school system's mind when they are trying to make ends meet.

What are your ideas on class size?  Is it helpful, but not "cost-effective"?  Or should educational value outweigh cost-effectiveness?  Or does class size not make that much of a difference to justify the cost?

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