Smaller Class Sizes Get Mixed Review
California's push to reduce the size of classes in the primary grades has delivered a second year of small gains in achievement, a report from a consortium of research groups concludes.
The 1998-99 gains extend to students of all backgrounds, but they come with a drawback, the researchers say: a shortage of qualified teachers throughout the grades. Teacher qualifications continued to decline in that year, though at a slower rate than the previous year, with the effects most pronounced in the lower grades and in schools serving poor or minority children.
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|Read the executive summary of the report, "Class Size Reduction in California: The 1998-1999 Evaluation Findings."|
The researchers, who compared students in small classes with those in larger ones, adjusting for background differences, say the results were encouraging—but not encouraging enough, the argue, to ignore the decline in teacher qualifications.
"It's a fairly clear good-news/bad-news story," said Brian M. Stecher, a senior social scientist with the RAND Corp. in Santa Monica, Calif. and a member of the research team."[Class-size reduction] had some effect, but it's small enough that it would take quite a long time to bring California up to the national average or to close the achievement gap between the performance of minority students and white students."
Part of the good news, Mr. Stecher pointed out, was that the 3rd grade gain persisted into the 4th grade, even when students returned to larger classes. Next year, the researcher said, the consortium will be able to compare gains over three years of students who have been educated in the smaller classes with those of students who have not.
In light of the 1998-99 results, the report recommends a stepped-up effort to prepare teachers; financial and other help that would enable the 15 percent of California public schools not participating to join the program; and improvements in the state's school data system.
California is in the fourth year of a closely watched, $4 billion effort to reduce class sizes to 20 pupils or fewer from kindergarten through 3rd grade.
Five research groups—headed by the Palo Alto, Calif.-based American Institutes for Research and the RAND Corp. and including Policy Analysis for California Education, Ed Source, and WestEd—have banded together to track the effects of the program for the state legislature. The report issued June 28 was the second of an expected four annual reports from the consortium. ("Slight Gains Found From Calif. Class-Size Program," June 23, 1999.)
Vol. 19, Issue 42, Page 25