NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Smaller Class Sizes Don't Equal Academic Gains

August 2, 2002

Since 1960, the number of pupils assigned to teachers in public schools has plummeted. During that era, student test scores have not improved and have, in fact, declined. Why?

Education specialists point out that as more teachers were hired, the overall quality of teachers declined. Good teachers can achieve academic gains in classes of 30 students. However, experience and studies have shown that mediocre teachers assigned to classes of only 20 students fail to inspire learning.

  • California has spent an extra $1 billion a year to reduce classroom sizes, but students have shown only tiny gains in math scores and even smaller improvements on reading tests, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.
  • Despite the goal of reducing class sizes from 30 to 20 students, some of the largest and poorest school districts, such as Los Angeles, saw test scores drop.
  • As of 1999, nearly 30 percent of students in the state's poorest districts had teachers who were not fully certified -- and another 25 percent had teachers with only a year or two of experience.
  • Studies have found that over a single school year, students assigned to a good teacher advance at the rate of a grade-and-a-half academically -- but students enduring a poor teacher advance by only a half grade.

Experts say that smaller class sizes do carry educational benefits -- but not if they are achieved at the expense of teacher quality.

Source: Editorial, "Cuts in Class Size Fail to Bolster Learning," USA Today, August 2, 2002.

For USA Today


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