Class Size


Fewer students, more teachers. Common sense would tell you the better the teacher/student ratio, the better instruction students receive. But that isn’t necessarily true.

According to a recent report from the Broward County (Fla.) School Board, smaller class sizes have had no effect on student achievement in the district.

For the 2000-01 school year, the Florida Department of Education funded a federal initiative to reduce class size. Findings from the district’s self-study show “no practical difference in test scores between participating and non-participating students.”

A total of 99 teachers were hired at 75 schools. Of these teachers, three were kindergarten teachers, 94 were first grade teachers and two were second grade teachers. All of the teachers hired were certified in their grade level and had an elementary education or early childhood specialization.

Additionally, area administrators and principals reported that the primary problem facing class size reduction efforts is classroom space. Approximately one-third of the principals interviewed had no additional classrooms to support lower class sizes, and instead used funds to support co-teaching and specialized assistance for students having the most difficulty.

According to Jay P. Greene, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute’s Education Research Office, large scale reduction in class size has not shown significant improvements in education due to teacher quality. “The most likely explanation is a simple law of economics: if you want to hire more people to do a certain job, you must accept a lower quality of worker,” says Greene.

The findings in Broward county are consistent with the national landscape:
class sizes have been declining nationally for the past five decades, with no significant sign of student improvement.

In 1970 there were 22.3 students per teacher in the U.S., according to the U.S. Department of Education. In 2001, the ratio is estimated at 15.1 students per teacher. During the same period, test scores in the National Assessment of Educational Progress have been stagnant. The average reading score of 17-year-olds was 305 in 1970; today it’s 295. The average math score was 304 in 1973; currently, it’s 308.

Proponents of mandating smaller classes often point to the Tennessee STAR project, in which elementary school students were randomly assigned either to relatively small classes or to regular classes for four years. An evaluation of the STAR project by researchers at Princeton found that 40 percent of regular class-size students went on to take either the SAT or ACT college entrance exam, while 43.7 percent of small class students took one of the two exams—a modest but statistically significant improvement.• —Laura Dianis

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