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Does Class Size Affect Learning?

According to a new report from the Nevada Department of Education, the student to teacher ratio at the Clark County School District increased by one student last year, putting the average class size at 23.  In science and social studies classes that number is higher, with an average of 27 students in each classroom.

Deputy Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky says the district is taking steps to address the problem of growing class sizes, which at the beginning of the school year was extreme enough to result in some students having to sit on the floor.

“We’ve done everything we can to accommodate the classrooms by adding in desks,” says Skorkowsky.  “We recently had our staffing day for the Clark County School District where we were able to reallocate teachers based on the ratios that are set forth by the district, to be able to provide additional help to schools get class size down.”

Educators are divided as to whether smaller classes have a major impact on student performance. Some studies, including a McKinsey Group report mentioned by Mitt Romney on the campaign trail last spring, suggest that the effect of class size on achievement is minimal. Romney drew criticism from some educators for suggesting that other factors, including teacher effectiveness and school choice, are more important than the number of students in the classroom.    

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But Leonie Haimson, Executive Director of Class Size Matters, says that choosing a school isn’t an option for some families, and that reductions in class size are the only solution that has been effective across socioeconomic groups.

“What the Institute of Education Sciences shows is that there are only a handful of reforms that have worked, and class size is one of them,” says Haimson. “I don’t think the whole notion of teacher effectiveness can be isolated from the context in which they work. When you poll teachers themselves, 90 to 95 percent of them say the most effective way to improve their ability to teach is to reduce class size.”

Dan Goldhaber, an education researcher at the University of Washington Bothell, says that only significant reductions in class size have an impact, and even then only on certain populations.

“The research that gets most often cited about class size, and it gets cited in a very general way, is the Tennessee STAR study,” says Goldhaber. “What the STAR study found is that class size reductions made a difference when there were very large reductions of about 8 students, and you got down to classes with about 16 to 18 kids in a class.”

Goldhaber agrees with Haimson that the biggest impact was on students from disadvantaged backgrounds, including  minority students, low achieving students and high poverty students.

“When you looked at different student groups or at grades further up it didn’t seem like class size reduction had a big impact on achievement. But it clearly did to those (disadvantaged) student populations,” says Goldhaber.


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

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