Day: <span>February 18, 2014</span>

Yes, folks, class size does matter


It is partly common sense, which was lost on the education budget cutters in the Legislature a few years ago. Now, there is additional academic affirmation of what should be obvious. Class size does matter, and the smaller the better.

Research shows that children learn more and teachers are more effective in smaller classes, concludes a new policy brief by the National Education Policy Center. And, it notes, smaller classes are even more critical for low-income and minority children, who now account for more than half of Texas’ public school enrollment.

“Any increases in class size will likely be most harmful to these populations,” the author, Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach of Northwestern University, writes.

She also points out, “The per-pupil impact is reasonably stable across class-size reductions of different sizes and from different baseline class sizes.” In other words, always think smaller, not larger.

In case your memory needs refreshing, members of the legislative majority in 2011 – driven more by ideology than common sense or the needs of school children — pooh-poohed previous academic studies generally pointing out the same thing. They slashed $5.4 billion from public school budgets, left several billion dollars of taxpayers’ money in the bank and forced school districts to seek thousands of waivers for overcrowded elementary school classrooms.

The budget-cutters argued that there was nothing “magical” about Texas’ 22-1 student-teacher ratio for K-4, which they forced districts to violate. Magic, though, has nothing to do with it. It’s a matter of keeping class sizes at a small enough level to allow teachers to give students the individual attention they need to succeed. Based on her report, Schanzenbach likely would agree that 15-1 would be better, but she also would point out that 22-1 certainly is better than the levels to which many classrooms swelled after the budget cuts.

Many classes are still too crowded as districts continue to operate under an inadequate and unfair school funding system. And, the ultimate victims are children.

“Class size is an important determinant of student outcomes and one that can be directly influenced by policy,” Schanzenbach writes. “All else being equal, increasing class sizes will harm student outcomes.”

She added: “The evidence suggests that increasing class size will harm not only children’s test scores in the short run but also their long-term human capital formation. Money saved today by increasing class sizes will be offset by more substantial social and educational costs in the future.”

If only members of the legislative majority could grasp the reality that Texas’ future won’t end with the next Republican primary.