by Josh Dwyer
teachers’ strikes continue to spread
across Illinois, union officials are pushing back against criticisms that they
are not doing enough to raise student achievement. One of the most common
excuses they use to explain the lack of results – apart from claiming that
low-income populations have too many issues to overcome, something the
Institute showed is not true in its latest report
– is that class sizes are too big.
Chicago Teacher’s Union (CTU) even authored a report
on the topic, asking the city council to divert $170 million of the $351
million set aside for charter school expansion in 2012 toward reducing average class
sizes from 28 to 20 students.
CPS anticipating a budget deficit of more than $1 billion in 2013, is reducing
class sizes the best way to spend money that it doesn’t have?
Chicago’s average class sizes are larger than many other schools in Illinois. Chicago
has the 14th highest average class size across elementary grades and
the fifth largest average high school class size.
is why CTU President Karen Lewis thinks that decreasing class sizes is a good
class sizes can lead to improved teaching and learning. In a smaller classroom,
a teacher has more time to get to know each student's academic strengths and
weaknesses; students receive more attention and teachers can spend more time
helping students learn and working with parents.”
some studies have shown that reducing class sizes can work if applied in a
strategic manner (i.e., having more experienced, higher quality teachers teach
more children and vice versa), most paint the policy as a costly mess.
this, the CTU report
relies on a study
conducted by Tennessee’s Student Teacher Achievement Ratio (STAR) Project in
1999 that found that a 32 percent reduction in K-3 classes (from 24-28 students
to 13-17 students) improved student achievement by about 15 percent a year.
they don’t mention in their report
is telling – that reducing class sizes by as much as the CTU wants will require
hiring hundreds of more teachers and spending millions of dollars on renovating
and constructing new buildings.
also fails to mention the other peer-reviewed studies that found that reducing
class sizes had little to no effect on increasing student achievement. In one study,
Stanford’s Eric Hanushek compiled 276 estimates of class-size effects from 59
studies, and found that only 11 percent of them indicated positive effects on
student performance. Another researcher, Caroline Hoxby, found in a
that no relationship exists between class size and achievement in fourth and
some states, like Florida have already shown that imposing specific caps on
class size is not cost-effective. There, the policy (which only reduced average
class sizes by 3 to 5 students) cost about $20 billion to implement during its
first eight years, with costs of $4 billion to $5 billion a year since.
money put toward reducing class sizes would be much better spent paying
high-quality teachers. A study
by Eric Hanushek and Steven Rivkin estimated that replacing the worst 5 to 8
percent of teachers in the U.S. with average – not great – teachers would
dramatically boost student achievement.
reforms that increase pay for high quality teachers – including paying them
more to teach at low-performing schools – would do wonders for student outcomes.
the next time you hear someone like Karen Lewis promoting class-size reduction,
remember to ask yourself this question:
this the best way to spend money we don’t have?