NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Better Teachers Versus Smaller Classes

January 29, 1999

President Clinton believes smaller classrooms are the key to better public education. But research by William Sanders at the University of Tennessee credits better teachers for improved student skills.

  • His studies have led him to conclude that teacher quality overwhelms class size by a factor as large as 20.
  • Sanders estimates that highly qualified teachers add as many as 50 percentile points to student test scores.
  • Dallas researchers found that fourth-graders assigned to three highly effective teachers in a row rose from the 59th to the 76th percentile by the end of sixth grade.

In Pueblo, Colorado, Superintendent Henry Roman got rid of 48 classroom aides and used the money saved to hire six teacher- coaches to sharpen the skills of teachers. Although that drove up the teacher to student ratio, Roman says the research is clear: keep the emphasis on teacher quality.

While Clinton has emphasized hiring 100,000 new teachers, only a comparatively tiny slice of his $1.2 billion program would address teacher quality, critics charge.

Source: Editorial, "Teacher Quality Trumps Quantity When It Comes to Helping Kids," USA Today, January 29, 1999.


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