School Climate & Safety

Riley Releases New Class-Size Report

By Michelle Galley — September 13, 2000 3 min read
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In its first year, President Clinton’s highly touted federal class-size-reduction program helped nearly two-thirds of the nation’s elementary schools hire an estimated 29,000 new teachers, according to a report released last week by Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley.

For More Information

View the secretary of education’s annual back to school speech from the U.S. Department of Education. (Free RealMedia G2 viewing software required.)
And download the report, “The Class-Size Reduction Program—Boosting Student Achievement in Schools Across the Nation. A First-Year Report.” (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

The program is “really working, and working well,” Mr. Riley said in unveiling the report during his seventh annual “Back to School” speech at the National Press Club here last Thursday. Mr. Riley also spoke about school readiness, student achievement, and parent involvement, particularly during the transition periods of kindergarten, middle school, and high school.

“These transitions mark a coming of age, and they are important milestones in the lives of America’s families,” he said.

The class-size-reduction initiative has faced opposition from many congressional Republicans, who argue that it involves the federal government too heavily in the hiring of teachers, and too rigidly prescribes how federal money should be used at the local school level. Those concerns rang out again last week.

Shortly after Mr. Riley’s speech, Rep. Bill Goodling, R-Pa., who chairs the House Education and the Workforce Committee, issued a response. He stressed flexibility as the key to student success and cited research about teacher-quality problems in California, which enacted its own class-size-reduction program in 1996.

“Some schools may choose to reduce class size by hiring more teachers, while others may prefer to upgrade the skills of their existing teachers,” Mr. Goodling said.

Teacher-Hiring Emphasis

Districts used only 8 percent of the $1.2 billion allocated to the federal program in fiscal 1999 for teacher professional development, 3 percent for teacher recruitment, and 2 percent for administration, according to the Department of Education report.

But the ability to use some of the class-size-reduction funds on recruitment and professional development has helped districts as they try to battle teacher shortages, said Joel Packer, a senior lobbyist for the National Education Association. He added that the program was designed to be phased in over seven years to avoid a crunch caused by attempts to hire too many new teachers at one time.

The vast majority, 87 percent, of the estimated 23,000 schools that received aid under the program used the money to hire new teachers, and the average class size in 90,000 classrooms dropped from 23 students to 18, according to the report. Most schools hired teachers for the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grades, the report says.

In his speech last week, Mr. Riley also stressed the importance of early-childhood education and parent involvement in the early years.

“It is absolutely imperative that we put a new, powerful, and sustained focus on the early years—zero to 5,” he said. To that end, he said he supports expanding the Family and Medical Leave Act to give new parents extended leaves, and creating voluntary universal preschool for 4-year-olds.

Parent involvement is also imperative during middle school and high school, Mr. Riley said. And to prepare students properly for high school, middle school educators should focus on both the academic and developmental needs of their students, he said.

Summer academies for students entering high school would help raise achievement and lower dropout rates, the secretary said.

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