NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Student Behavior, Not Class Size, Critical In Education

February 22, 2001

Economists have had a difficult time finding any evidence that cutting the number of students in classrooms increases student learning.

Edward Lazear, an economist at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and the Hoover Institution, has conducted research into the relationship of various factors -- class size, student behavior, learning and the cost of teachers -- and how they affect classroom education. He found that student behavior was of much greater importance than class sizes.

According to his research, to be published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics:

  • Cutting the size of classes where behavior is already good taxes scarce resources -- such as money and space -- which could be better used elsewhere.
  • Funds would he better used to raise teachers' pay in order to attract a better pool of new teachers.
  • Young children are already assigned to smaller classes because they have shorter attention spans than high school students, and where behavior is not a problem -- as is often the case in Catholic and private schools -- larger classes are appropriate.
  • It is possible to reduce the size of a class, increase student learning and still look bad compared with larger classes -- as happens when schools put disruptive students in smaller settings.

In short, when it comes to classroom learning, one size does not fit all.

Source: Virginia Postrel (Reason Magazine), "Smaller Classes Don't Necessarily Equal Better Education. Do the Math!" Economic Scene, New York Times, February 22, 2001.


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