Thursday, March 31, 2011

Tight Budgets Mean Squeeze in Classrooms

A NYT article about how budget cuts are leading to increased class sizes – and how much of an impact this might have on students (a BIG part of the answer depends on WHICH teachers are laid off – if the worst are, then putting kids who were stuck with them into classrooms with better teachers, even classrooms with more students, then it could have a beneficial impact):

Millions of public school students across the nation are seeing their class sizes swell because of budget cuts and teacher layoffs, undermining a decades-long push by parents, administrators and policy makers to shrink class sizes.

Over the past two years, California, Georgia, Nevada, Ohio, Utah and Wisconsin have loosened legal restrictions on class size. And Idaho and Texas are debating whether to fit more students in classrooms.

Los Angeles has increased the average size of its ninth-grade English and math classes to 34 from 20. Eleventh- and 12th-grade classes in those two subjects have risen, on average, to 43 students.

"Because many states are facing serious budget gaps, we'll see more increases this fall," said Marguerite Roza, a University of Washington professor who has studied the recession's impact on schools.

The increases are reversing a trend toward smaller classes that stretches back decades. Since the 1980s, teachers and many other educators have embraced research finding that smaller classes foster higher achievement.

…In the 1980s, Ms. Bain persuaded Tennessee lawmakers to finance a study comparing classes of 13 to 17 students in kindergarten through third grade with classes of 22 to 25 students. The smaller classes significantly outscored the larger classes on achievement tests.

In the decades since, researchers, including the Princeton economist Alan Krueger, have conducted studies that they say confirm and strengthen the validity of the Tennessee findings.

Others, including Eric Hanushek, a Stanford economist, have argued that the impact of small classes on achievement has been exaggerated and that giving students a skillful teacher is more cost-effective.

Those who support that notion include Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who last Sunday told governors gathered in Washington to consider paying bonuses to the best teachers to take on extra students.

Mr. Duncan said he would prefer to put his own school-age children in a classroom with 28 students led by a "fantastic teacher" than in one with 23 and a "mediocre" teacher.

Bill Gates made a similar argument to the governors, portraying the movement to reduce class sizes as one of the most expensive and fruitless efforts in American education.

The federal Department of Education collects nationwide class size data every few years, and the average has declined steadily for half a century. In 1961, the average elementary school class had 29 students, and the average high school class had 28. In 2007-8, the most recent year with data, the elementary school average was 20, and the high school average was 23.4.


Tight Budgets Mean Squeeze in Classrooms

Published: March 6, 2011

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