According to recent reporting by The Frederick News-Post (“Reducing class size number one priority” published Dec. 5, 2019), many parents and community members believe spending money to reduce class sizes should be the school system’s highest priority. As often happens in politics, research suggests that the politically popular option is unlikely to have a positive impact. Most of the public conversation hasn’t mentioned class size reduction’s many disadvantages.

Research on reducing class sizes is mixed at best. Alan Krueger’s analysis of Tennessee’s class-size reductions found positive effects equivalent to three additional months of schooling after four years of spending. These effects were found for large reductions in class sizes (from 22 students down to 15) in early elementary school, but not in other grades. Christopher Jepsen and Steven Ibsen’s analysis of California’s K-3 class size reduction initiative found a smaller positive effect equal to a month and a half more of schooling. Caroline Hoxby’s analysis of Connecticut’s class size differences found no relationship between class size and achievement in fourth and sixth grades, which should have reflected the impact of smaller classes in the previous grades. Matthew Chingos found that Florida’s class size reduction had no impact on test scores in grades three through eight. That program cost $20 billion in its first eight years and $4 billion to $5 billion every year after.

The take away from this research is that targeted class size reductions in the early elementary grades, specifically kindergarten, are the most likely to be effective. Across-the-board reductions are not cost effective, and have negative impacts. Hiring more teachers reduces teacher quality, since school districts have to dip deeper into the applicant pool and hire less-qualified candidates. Teacher salaries will tend to fall along with class sizes, since districts must divide the funding allocated for salaries across more employees. Districts that want to prioritize both salaries and class size will have to reduce funding in other areas such as curriculum materials or office supplies. Smaller classes require more classrooms, which means the construction budget will have to increase as well.

Parents like the idea of smaller classes because they believe it will result in more personal attention for their children, but some quick math shows this doesn’t make sense. Even if a teacher wanted to spend an entire 45-minute class period giving students individual attention, with 23 students, each student would receive about two minutes of time. Reducing class size down to 17 per class would increase that time by only 39 seconds. Keep in mind that Frederick County isn’t considering reducing class sizes by that much, so the impact on personal attention would be even lower here.

Understandably, the teachers union will always support class size reductions, since doing so increases their membership and political power and reduces teachers’ workload. Most American teachers believe that smaller classes will help them be more effective. Asian countries that outperform the United States in international comparisons have substantially larger class sizes than America’s average of 23, with Japan at 36, Taiwan at 44 and South Korea at 49, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. These countries tend to focus more on teacher quality than quantity.

In her book, “Knowing and Teaching Elementary Mathematics,” Liping Ma found that Chinese teachers have greater competence in math and better ability to teach it than American teachers. Multiple studies have found that most American teachers don’t understand scientifically based reading instruction, and the National Council for Teacher Quality found that “Only 5 percent of the 875 [teacher preparation] programs evaluated ensure that aspiring elementary teachers know the science, history and geography, and literature and composition content they will teach.”

Parents and district officials ought to reconsider making class size reduction a higher priority than having competitively paid, well-prepared teachers. Ensuring that every child is taught by a teacher who understands their subject and proven methods of instruction requires different spending priorities. Since most education schools haven’t been willing or able to improve their preparation programs, FCPS will need to invest heavily in training to make up for the many gaps these programs leave. They’ll also need to fund targeted salary increases to attract more candidates in hard-to-staff subject areas such as science, technology and special education, which the teachers union opposes. Doing this requires accepting some hard truths about teacher preparation and contending with the union, so it’s no wonder that class size reduction, which requires no such admission or contract negotiation, remains popular despite its high cost and lack of evidence.

(39) comments

jth7100

Math isn't your thing redux. No problem.

public-redux

If you could point out my mathematical errors, I would be very grateful.

jth7100

Public redux wasn't good at either.

jth7100

The writer of this LTE should apparently attend an Asian school to learn some mathematics. In one paragraph, he writes that adding 39 seconds to two minutes is basically inconsequential. Well some people have trouble with percentages I know, but that's a 32.5% increase. Would you care to have a 32.5% increase in your income? I had an American public school education which allows me to know when people use numbers to obfuscate.

public-redux

A 32.5% increase over a small amount is indeed inconsequential because the result is still a small amount.

gabrielshorn2013

[thumbup]

public-redux

To my knowledge, there are no data to suggest that small reductions in class size — say from 30 to 28 or 24 to 22 — would have statistically significant improvements. And there is not a political appetite for the costs of large reductions. Say we wanted to reduce class size by one third. From 30 to 20, for example. That would require an increase of 50% in the number of teachers, all other things being equal.

(For the quantitatively challenged: assume 1200 students. Dividing by class size of 30 = 40 teachers. Now dividing by class size of 20 = 60 teachers. 60 is 50% more than 40. Tutorial concluded.)

Personnel account for 80% of the costs and classroom personnel are most of the staff. Ignoring capital costs for more classrooms, we would be looking at a bare minimum of a 35% to 40% increase in costs/taxes. FCPS is about 50% of your local tax bill. So an increase of 17% to 20% in your local taxes. Ain’t gonna happen.

bpsws

Ask Tom where his kids go to school and the answer isn't one of FCPS schools where class sizes can hit 30+.

gabrielshorn2013

But bpsws, if you click on the link Mr. Neumark provided below, you will see that many countries exceed 30 students per class, yet their students out perform American kids. Why is that? Does class size matter? According to the report, nope.

shiftless88

Gabriel; I think the point is that "class size doesn't matter" is an oversimplification. If you have good cholesterol levels then taking statins doesn't matter, but if you have other issues then it can be life saving.

hayduke2

Data from 1991... And yes, class size matters... The study also states the unmeasureables, which I hold are more important that success on a test. Think back to that teacher that had an impact on you - why? See the line in the summary that follows - The impact of class size on the overall learning environment is related to such factors as teaching style, student behavior, and the opportunity for students to meet with teachers outside of class.

gabrielshorn2013

Hay and shiftless, did you notice I asked "why is that"? I have no idea. That is why I asked for references from Mr. Neumark, and this is what he supplied. There is a whole website full of data and reports to explore if you clicked on the bars in the upper left corner. What I haven't seen are studies showing larger class sizes to be detrimental. Of course it makes perfect sense if the student had a one to one ratio with teachers. But where is the line where it becomes detrimental?

shiftless88

Hey Gabe; one of the answers is right in the letter: "Alan Krueger’s analysis of Tennessee’s class-size reductions found positive effects equivalent to three additional months of schooling after four years of spending. These effects were found for large reductions in class sizes (from 22 students down to 15) in early elementary school, but not in other grades."

gabrielshorn2013

Shiftless, ok, but that's not the data Mr. Neumark provided, so while he says it says that, I can't confirm the conclusion. That's why I asked for links to the data.

Also, see public's response above.

DickD

Once again Tom looks at some of the interests he has and ignores how good teachers teach. Good teachers know some in the classroom will catch on very fast, some will not. So, the good teacher has the best students help the slower students and that equates to much more help than what Tom estimates.

mamlukman

Have a look at the latest (2018--released last week) PISA results. The US, as usual, is mired in the mediocre levels. Canada, on the other hand, is among the top-ranked countries in reading, science, and math. Why?

One suggestion: In the US, students get a BA in education, then they go off to teach...whatever. They could end up teaching something they never studied in college. How about Canada? There is no such thing as a primary B.Ed.--first you have to get a BA or BS in some subject. THEN you spend an additional year getting a B.Ed. And THEN you are certified only in those subjects where you specialized in college. Imagine that! Teachers teaching what they know! Novel idea.

DickD

A nephew of ours teaches high school physics in New York State. He not only had to know his subject matter, but had to take tests to prove it. Now that may not be true in Maryland.

How to become a high school physics teacher.https://study.com/articles/How_to_Become_a_High_School_Physics_Teacher_Step-by-Step_Career_Guide.html- Bachelor's degree - Physics with a teacher prep program or an education minor - State licensure required to teach in public schools- Student teaching (usually acquired with teacher prep program)- Confidence; concise communication skills; proficiency with Website maintenance, online discussion board    management, and education software; maintain science materials, equipment, visual aids - $57,200 (2015 median for high school teachers) All of the above are explained in detail at the web site.  Getting a graduate degree is encouraged.

gabrielshorn2013

Hey FNP, would it be possible to provide links to the references that authors refer to, and require them to provide the citation to you? You probably couldn't do it in the print version, but online shouldn't be a problem. As for Mr. Neumark's assertion regarding class sizes and achievement, I would like to see the data and understand what the differences are between systems. I do know that teaching in Asian systems is a very attractive, well paid, but highly competitive career.

tneumark2000

https://nces.ed.gov/pubs/eiip/eiipid21.asp

DickD

I have a niece teaching in China and she is paid very good, much better than she could hope to get in the U.S.

public-redux

If only she were paid very well..

DickD

She is well, so she is good. [lol]

shiftless88

I would be very curious how those improvements track with gender and socio-economic status. I would guess that children from poor or disadvantaged backgrounds and girls benefit more from smaller class sizes.

DickD

Not sure how gender has anything to do with learning. The girls in our class were most;y good. The gender problem I see is boys are more prone to fool around and not listen.

shiftless88

It has been shown that in the presence of boys, girls tend to not interact in class as much. Smaller class sizes could potentially (I'm sure data exist) increase the girls' involvement and therefore progress. Same with kids from disadvantaged backgrounds. Bigger groups tend to favor the loudest.

public-redux

Dick, The fooling around by the boys is one reason why the girls receive less attention.

DickD

I don't doubt that.

public-redux

Sensible column. It does make one wonder why lots of private schools and non-traditional public schools promote their small class sizes.

bpsws

I totally disagree. For the teacher, if a class has 15 students, he/she has 3 minutes/child in a 45 minute lesson. In a class of 30+, there is less than 2 min per child during a lesson. If FCPS want to move forward, class sizes must be reduced. It is crazy that we have K or high school classes of 30 students or more.

MD1756

As one who is disporportionately affected by proposals that rasie the cost of education, unless the parents calling for reduced class sizes are willing to give up their income tax deductions/credits for having children and actually start paying more to educate their children, I say no to increased public school budgets, especially where the results of that spending are questionable. By the time you reach college, be prepared for some class sizes to be 300 people.

DickD

There might be some colleges that do that, it never happened at Long Island A. & T. or Maryland U. while I was attending.

gabrielshorn2013

At Rutgers we surely had classes with 300+ students. Mostly undergrad science classes that culled out those not prepared for such rigorous studies.

shiftless88

It depends on the class. Psych 101 is probably large. Advanced chemistry not so much.

MD1756

Va Tech had business classes (economics, accounting, etc.) with that many. Our engineering classes were much smaller but then again we only had roughly 90 chemical engineers in our class.

DickD

In our grade school it was normal to have 25 to 30. Never seemed to hurt anyone. I do remember being held over for not getting a class matter, as all students were. If you didn't get it, you stayed until you did,

hayduke2

I would also add that test scores are NOT the only thing that should be liked at. It happens to be the easiest because the other benefits of smaller class sizes are more difficult to quantify.

fjulia

The LTE writer ignores one of the significant differences with other countries' education systems and the U.S. They have a centralized curriculum with every school teaching the same. Most have 'after-school' cramming programs paid for by parents, competitive testing to get into the high schools and colleges, and some form of apprentiship (at least in Europe) program. None of which are whole heartily supported by U.S. systems. Also, notice how he could not resist attacking teachers and their unions. His LTE have become one note. Time to give someone else a chance for a regular column and let Mr. Neumark write in the comment section.

DickD

[thumbup][thumbup]

bgreenway

In addition, schools in the US have very heterogenous populations~ children from El Salvador to Vietnam. Some schools in MOCO have children from 10+ countries! This is certainly not true in countries like South Korea. It makes a difference.

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