Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Classroom Size and Education "Gaps"

A recent CABE email newsletter included an update of one of my favorite subjects - class size. In my research, the American high school is often misrepresented on the subject.

The latest controversy - that class size benefits everyone equally or even disproportionately doing nothing to alleviate the mythical achievement gap:

Class Size and the Achievement Gap: Reducing class size has been a popular policy among parents, teachers, and lawmakers as a way to increase student achievement. For 20 years, a large study of class size in Tennessee, known as Project STAR, has raised hopes that reducing class size in inner-city classrooms to 17 or fewer would yield significant increases in achievement, reports Jay Mathews for the Washington Post. However, Spyros Konstantopoulos, a Northwestern University researcher, contradicts assumptions that class size reduction might have a significant effect on the gap between rich and poor students and concluded that high achievers benefited more from the smaller classes than low achievers. By looking closely at the same data as Project STAR on thousands of students from kindergarten through third grade in 79 schools, Konstantopoulos found that decreasing class size might drive some achievement (on average) yet it does not appear to reduce achievement gaps within classes.

Project STAR, short for Student/Teacher Achievement Ratio, launched in 1985, was paid for by the Tennessee legislature and involved roughly 7,000 students from 79 schools. In the study, children were randomly assigned to small classes (13 to17 students per teacher), regular-size classes (22 to 25 students per teacher) or regular classes (22 to 25 students) with a full-time aide for each teacher. Classroom teachers were also randomly assigned, giving the study a scientific validity rarely found in educational research. After four years, researchers found a significant relationship between smaller classes and higher academic achievement. Follow-up studies have shown that children who were in the smaller classes continued to outperform those from larger classes.

Researcher Konstantopoulos stated, "Given that class size reduction is an intervention that benefits all students, it's tempting to expect that it will also reduce the achievement gap." He suggests that higher achievers, perhaps, are better at taking advantage of the opportunities or teacher practices that take place in small classes.

This latest review of the Project STAR data will likely generate discussion among supporters of class-size reduction policies. Since this large study, research on the effects of class size reduction has been limited. Even those who differ over the implications of the research agree that more scientific research on class size is necessary.

Sources: "Class-Size Reductions Seen of Limited Help On Achievement Gap," by Linda Jacobson appearing in the February 27, 2008 issue of Education Week.

"Smaller Classes Don't Close Learning Gap, Study Finds," by Jay Mathews appearing in the March 10, 2008 issue of the Washington Post.

Let me interject that there are lots of studies of class size who argue that as you progress through school class size becomes an irrelevant and in many cases wholly wasteful expenditure. Yet, these studies never seem to be cited by a self-serving and intellectually insulated academic community.

See my previous observations on the subject:

The Multi-million Dollar Scam

The Money Spigot

The Class Size Scam

Search for class size in this blog for related material.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm a product of large elementary

grade classes. 87 children with 1
teacher in 2nd grade, was still a
group of 67 when we graduated from
the 8th grade. 1st grade picture
looks like more than 87 children.

Los Angeles, CA suffered a large
flux of population during an after
WWII, mostly because Soldiers had
disovered better climate than they
had at "home".

I was in a Catholic School and think the Archdiocese mandated
taking all Cath. children into their schools. Public schools
suffered the influx, and I can't
be sure how they handled the influx
of student body. You might check,
as you would have a statistical
base for your studies.

I might add that my class pretty
well knows where each other are
located even today. I also think you would also find that a majority
of us graduated from College.