There is still a great deal of debate around whether smaller classes are worth the high cost. The Southern Regional Education Board takes on the topic in a new report, noting that it would cost more than $10 billion a year if schools nationwide reduced average class size by even one student.
The report, “Smart Class-Size Policies for Lean Times,” says that the public, when given a choice between “smaller classes with average-performing teachers” and “larger classes with better-than-average teachers,” emphatically chose better teachers over smaller classes.
The report also notes that it is difficult to get a true handle on class size and student-teacher ratios because “many states count personnel other than full-time instructors (such as guidance counselors, librarians, paraprofessionals and administrators) in the student teacher ratio. The result is looser and less rigorous than the strict average calculation.”
The report concludes: Some policy-makers and education leaders may be tempted to increase class size to cut costs. If cost cutting is the only goal, they should focus on the point in the K-12 pipeline where class-size reduction has not yet proven necessary to support academic performance — high school.
But SREB cautions that there are risks to raising class sizes in the early grades: Research clearly shows that students benefit most from smaller classes in the early grades, especially kindergarten through grade three.
The report references Georgia policy, noting that Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue asked the state Board of Education to grant districts any class-size waiver requests it considered “reasonable” for the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 school years. The statewide waiver has been renewed by the Board each year since and now extends through the 2012- 2013 school year.
Here is the official release:
A new report from the Southern Regional Education Board says that even when budgets are tight, states should protect smaller classes in the early grades and study the effects of larger classes on student achievement.
Research shows that students perform better in small classrooms, especially in kindergarten through third grade, according to “Smart Class-Size Policies for Lean Times.”
Yet shrinking class sizes is one of the most expensive education initiatives for states: Reducing average class size by even one student could cost the nation more than $10 billion per year. In Florida, a statewide class-size reduction policy cost nearly $22 billion over a nine-year period.
In the 1980s, SREB states, led by Tennessee and Texas, spearheaded policies to limit the number of students in public K-12 classrooms. The K-12 student-teacher ratio dropped over two decades by nearly three students in SREB states and by almost two students nationally.
In recent years, some states have altered their class-size policies as they weighed their cost effectiveness during lean times. About a third of all states — including 10 SREB states — permit waivers to provide flexibility. Florida adjusted its list of core courses, and Texas sought to move from caps to averages.
The SREB policy brief recommends that if states must consider enlarging class sizes to save money, they should:
•Consider the state’s record of student performance along with their current fiscal condition.
•Base change on research about impact on student achievement and teacher effectiveness.
•Require schools to monitor individual student achievement at any grade level where they enlarge classes.
•Factor in effectiveness of classroom teachers and how they assess it.
•Maintain smaller classes pre-K through third grade and for groups of students at risk of academic failure.
•Keep the public informed of any changes.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog