NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Reducing Classroom Sizes In California

June 25, 1999

A study conducted by Rand Corp., American Institutes for Research and several government entities -- called the CSR Research Consortium -- found that California's efforts to reduce the size of school classes produced mixed results. Moreover, the report cautioned that so many variables were involved that it was "difficult to isolate the effects of any single one."

Nevertheless, class-size reduction "roughly translates to moving a student who was at the 50th percentile to the 53rd percentile" -- only a slight improvement.

The report found that forming smaller classes carried some negatives:

  • Class-size reductions hurts lower income districts as teachers flee to meet the demand for increased personnel in more affluent districts.
  • It has led to an increase in more poorly-trained teachers -- with the number of non-credentialed teachers jumping from almost zero in 1995 to 12 percent in 1997.
  • Expenses increased for low-income districts -- draining other programs and making crowded facilities worse.

Experts say that what has been found to work is greater freedom from bureaucracy and increased accountability.

Harvard University's Paul E. Peterson has found that voucher programs are raising students' scores in Milwaukee, Cleveland and New York City -- and at lower costs.

"The reforms that are cheap and work," Peterson says, "are the hardest to get by the special interests that dominate education."

Source: Executive Summary, "Class Size Reduction in California: Early Evaluation Findings, 1996-98," Technical Report, June 23, 1999, Class Size Reduction Research Consortium; Editorial, "The Hype Over Class Sizes," Investor's Business Daily, June 25, 1999.


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