NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Does Reducing Class Size Improve Education?

September 15, 2000

Last year, President Clinton proposed to reduce class size in the early grades by hiring 100,000 more teachers using federal funds. Vice-President Gore has similar plans. And in California, schools scrambled to implement a statewide class-size reduction mandate championed by former Gov. Pete Wilson (R).

Do small classes translate into academic success? Is this really the panacea for the ailing American educational system?

Researchers have found little or no improvement in student performance from smaller classes:

  • A new study by RAND and the American Institutes for Research has found that reducing class size has not made a substantial impact on student achievement.
  • A 1989 John Hopkins University report that reviewed 14 different studies from around the country found that when classes were cut to 15 students, students in the smaller classes only gained about 4 points.
  • Furthermore, University of Rochester economist Erik Hanushek found that, "in 277 statistical studies on class size and student achievement, only 15 percent showed a clear positive relationship. However, 13 percent actually showed a negative relationship, the rest having results that were not statistically significant."

But cutting class size can hatch numerous other problems.

  • There is not enough classroom space; thus school districts must divert scarce resources to new construction rather than renovation of existing, aging schools.
  • There aren't enough teachers to fill the additional classrooms, and the increased competition will lure experienced teachers from urban, minority schools to suburban schools, harming the education of children most at risk.

Teaching methods, textbooks and lessons utilized in larger classrooms are unlikely to change when the classroom size is reduced. Chester E. Finn Jr. and Michael J. Petrilli of the Hudson Institute note that "Getting any real achievement bounce from class shrinking hinges on teachers who know their stuff and use proven methods of instruction."

Source: Kimberly Castro (Statistical Assessment Service), "Why the jury is still out on class size reduction," San Diego Union-Tribune, September 6, 2000.  


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