Monday, March 06, 2006
I’m surprised and honored. A friend involved in politics in Lincoln encouraged me to write an op-ed opposing the spread of all-day kindergarten across the state, and send it to the Lincoln Journal. They ran it today! It’s a hot potato, because a lot of parents like the “free day care,” and many people think it’s academically better for today’s kids. But the evidence shows that it’s not. And it costs a ton. Come see what you think:
SMALL CLASS SIZE: NOT WORTH THE COST
Q. Isn’t the answer to many of our educational problems smaller classes, so that teachers can concentrate more on meeting the learning needs of each child?
No, old-fashioned teaching methods such as phonics for reading and computation for math would do a lot more than smaller classes.
Class size reductions cost an estimated $800 per pupil per year for additional teaching staff. That doesn’t count the costs of additional classroom space, additional administration and support, and twice as much learning material. Yet there’s no real evidence that smaller classes improve student learning.
Proponents of smaller class sizes tout two programs as “proof” that smaller classes work. They are Tennessee’s STAR (the Student/Teacher Achievement Ratio) and Wisconsin’s SAGE (the Student Achievement Guarantee in Education).
While they did show improvements for minority and disadvantaged students, these programs didn’t factor out other variables that might have contributed to or actually caused the improvements. The differences also were measurable mainly after kindergarten, and didn’t last much longer – they “washed out” in a few years, in other words. Lastly, there was evidence of the “Hawthorne effect” – teachers in smaller classes knew they were being studied, so they overachieved. So these programs aren’t a valid, reliable source of proof.
At any rate, class size reductions are expensive, compared to other reforms, such as better teacher training, alternative teacher certification, bureaucracy reduction, and school choice.
Eminent education scholars such as Caroline Hoxby of Harvard and Eric Hanushek of Stanford confirm that class size reductions are not what they’re cracked up to be. Hanushek reviewed 277 studies of class size reductions and found that 15% showed a positive effect on student achievement, but 13% actually showed a negative effect. The rest were about equal. He concluded that, based on how much class size reductions cost, they would not be good public policy.
See Hanushek’s article, “The Evidence on Class Size,” at http://edexcellence.net/doc/size.pdf and a collection of his writings on the topic at http://edpro.stanford.edu/hanushek/content.asp?contentId=73
Nationwide, while class sizes have dropped from an average of 30 students per classroom in 1961 to around 17 today, test scores of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) have remained maddeningly stagnant. Minnesota, noted for its high student achievement, has among the country’s largest class sizes, while Washington, D.C., with an average class size of 11.4 pupils, has the nation’s worst academic performance. See www.alec.org/meSWFiles/pdf/0023.pdf
In North Carolina, $23 million was invested over four years to zero in on smaller class sizes for children in low-income, low-performing schools. Results? A bust. Read more in the charmingly named article, “Honey, I Shrunk the Class!: How Reducing Class Size Fails to Raise Student Achievement,” Jan. 10, 2006, John Locke Foundation, http://www.johnlocke.org/spotlights/20060110123.html?BMIDS=13210320-b1c2eb50-99087
In California, the class-size reduction pricetag was $2.5 billion, and that didn’t count the cost of the huge exodus of teachers from inner-city schools to the suburbs to take the newly-created teaching jobs because of the smaller class size mandate. That forced school officials to hire incompetents to replace them: one-fourth of the 18,000 teachers hired in 1996 lacked teaching credentials. An exacting RAND study found no payoff for massive, multi-billion dollar class size reductions in California: http://epaa.asu.edu/epaa/v11n40/.
It’s not just states that are finding this out; foreign countries know this, too. Ironically, larger class sizes – not smaller ones -- were associated with higher student achievement in 11 out of 18 countries in one study. In five, it was a push. In only two out of the 18 countries could better student achievement be linked with smaller class sizes. See the article, “Crowd Control,” www.educationnext.org/20033/56.html
Others who have said that class size reductions aren’t worth it are influential sociologist James C. Coleman, credited for sweeping reforms in schooling for disadvantaged children; Harvard sociologist Christopher Jencks, who showed positive results with larger classes, and famed inner-city Los Angeles calculus teacher Jaime Escalante (made famous in the movie, “Stand and Deliver”), who often had as many as 75 students in his classes.
Homework: There’s a good synopsis of this issue from the American Legislative Exchange Council, www.alec.org/2/1/talking-points/2.html
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