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Legislative: Class Size Resources
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The Effectiveness of Class Size Reduction
National Education Policy Center; June 2016
Key Takeaway: All else being equal, smaller class sizes will improve student outcomes, especially for low-income and minority children. 

Does Class Size Matter?

National Education Policy Center; February 18, 2014

This policy brief summarizes the academic literature on the impact of class size and finds that class size is an important determinant of a variety of student outcomes, ranging from test scores to broader life outcomes. Smaller classes are particularly effective at raising achievement levels of low-income and minority children.

Policymakers should carefully weigh the efficacy of class-size policy against other potential uses of funds. While lower class size has a demonstrable cost, it may prove the more cost-effective policy overall.


Smart Class Size Policies for Lean Times
SREB Policy Brief; March 2012

The following recommendations can help policy-makers move toward smart class-size policies:

  • Maintain rigorous and enforceable class-size policies in the early grades: Policy-makers and education leaders should resist the urge to relax small-class policies for early grades students, even when budgets are tight.
  • Monitor individual student achievement and engagement: Policy-makers and education leaders should insist that schools, districts, and the state monitor individual student performance and behavior in grades where class sizes are increased, to prevent increased student failure that could result from larger classes.
  • Add teacher effectiveness to studies of class size: States should undertake studies of the relationship of class size and teacher effectiveness on student achievement.

How Important is Class Size? Defining Your Ideal
Great Schools


The Synergy of Class Size Reduction and Classroom Quality
Elizabeth Graue, Erica Rauscher and Melissa Sherfinski; Elementary School Journal; December 2009


The Non-Cognitive Returns to Class Size
Thomas Dee and Martin West; National Bureau of Economic Research; May 2008

  • Class-size reductions improve some non-cognitive skills related to student engagement.
  • Apparent long-term labor-market benefits of these non-cognitive skills.
  • 8th grade class-size reductions appear to be particularly cost-effective when targeted in urban schools.

Do Small Classes Reduce the Achievement Gap between Low and High Achievers?
Spyros Konstantopoulos; The Elementary School Journal; 2008

  • All students benefited from smaller class sizes.

The Wisdom of Class Size Reduction
Elizabeth Graue, Kelly Hatch, Kalpana Rao and Denise Oen; American Education Research Assocation Journal; September 2007


Health and Economic Benefits of Reducing the Number of Students per Classroom in US Primary Schools
Peter Muennig, MD, MPH and Steven Woolf, MD, MPH; American Journal of Public Health; September 2007

  • Reducing class size in the early grades resulted in a net cost savings to society of an estimated $168,000 per additional student who graduated from high school by age 20.
  • For low-income students, the cost savings per added graduate rose to an estimated $196,000.
  • In terms of health, the life expectancy for added graduates increased by an estimated 1.7 quality-adjusted life years.
  • Reducing class size compares favorably with childhood vaccinations in terms of quality of life years gained per dollar invested.
  • Class-size intervention appears to be more cost-effective than most medical and public health interventions.

Teachers' and Pupils' Behavior in Large and Small Classes
Peter Blatchford, Paul Bassett and Penelope Brown; Journal of Educational Psychology; 2005


Do Minorities Experience Larger Lasting Benefits from Smaller Classes?
Barbara Nye, Spyros Konstantopoulos and Larry Hedges; Journal of Educational Research; November 2004

  • Statistically significant lasting impact on racial and ethnic minority students in reading.
  • Statistically significant lasting impact on female test scores in math.

Of Course Money Matters: Why the Arguments to the Contrary Never Added Up
Michael Rebell and Joseph Wardenski; The Campaign for Fiscal Equity, Inc.; January 2004


Economic Considerations and Class Size
Alan Krueger; Economic Journal; 2003

  • Every $1 invested in reducing class size from 22 students to 15 students in K-3 yields about $2 in benefits in total increased earnings for those students over their work careers.

Class Size: Counting Students Can Count
American Educational Research Association; Fall 2003


Class-Size Reduction: A Fresh Look at the Data
Phil Smith, Alex Molnar and John Zahorik; Educational Leadership; September 2003


What Research Says About Small Classes and Their Effects
Bruce J. Biddle and David C. Berliner; West Ed; 2002
". . . reducing the size of classes for students in the early grades often requires additional funds, although sizable educational benefits result when this step is taken. Students from all walks of life reap long-lasting advantages, but students from educationally disadvantaged groups benefit particularly. . . . no other educational reform has yet been studied that would provide such striking benefits, so debates about reducing class sizes are basically disputes about values. . . . If Americans are truly committed to providing quality public education and a level playing field for all children regardless of background, once they learn about the advantages of small classes in the early grades, they will presumably find the funds needed to reduce class size.”


The Class Size Reduction Program: Boosting Student Achievement in Schools Across the Nation. A First-Year Report
U.S. Department of Education; September 2002


Would Smaller Classes Help Close the Black-White Achievement Gap?
A. Krueger and D. Whitmore; 2002

The estimated impact of assigning students to small classes (15) in the early grades instead of regular size classes (22) would reduce the black-white gap in achievement test scores by 38% in K-3; by 15% in achievement test scores in grades 4-8; and by 60% in test-taking rates for a college entrance exam like the SAT or ACT in high school.


Reducing Class Size: A Smart Way to Improve American's Urban Schools
October 2000
Reducing the pupil:teacher ratio to 24:1 resulted in an average 5.8 NAEP percentile point gains among central city students. 21:1 resulted in additional gains of 3.7 points, and 18:1 produced an additional 1.6 points.


Reducing Class Size: What Do We Know?
U.S. Department of Education - March 1999

  • Class size reduction in the early grades leads to higher student achievement. Researchers are more cautious about the question of the positive effects of class size reduction in grades 4-12.. The significant effects of class size reduction on student achievement appear when class size is reduced to 15-20 students, and continue to increase as class size approaches the situation of a 1-to-1 tutorial.
  • If class size is reduced from substantially more than 20 students per class to below 20 students, the related increase in student achievement moves the average student from the 50th percentile up to somewhere above the 60th percentile. For disadvantaged and minority students the effects are somewhat larger.
  • Students, teachers and parents all report positive effects from the impact of class size reductions on the quality of classroom activity.

Local Success Stories: Reducing Class Size
U.S. Department of Education - November 1999
"A growing body of research involving large-scale, carefully controlled experiments shows that lowering class size in the early grades will produce significant and lasting benefits for students. The early implementation experience shows that the Class Size Reduction Program is well on the way to helping schools throughout the country realize these benefits.”

School Size and Class Size in Texas Public Schools Policy Research
Texas Education Agency Office of Policy Planning and Research - January 1999

  • . . .small classes can provide conditions that enhance student achievement and school climate. . . . fewer class distractions and disruptions; increased participation; increased interactions; and increased time for teachers to address individual student needs. The improved climate created by smaller classes provides more instructional time.
  • Achievement for students in small classes is greater than achievement of students in regular size classes or regular size classes with aides.
  • Class size reductions below 20 appear to be most beneficial for students, especially K-1.
  • Higher academic achievement continued into higher grades for students who participated in small classes in elementary school.
  • Small classes have proven successful in narrowing the achievement gap.

The Enduring Effects of Small Classes
Jeremy D. Finn, Susan B. Gerber, Charles M. Achilles, Jayne Boyd-Zaharias
Improvements in test scores attributable to attending small classes in K-3 remained significant five years after small classes were disbanded. Few educational interventions have demonstrated this degree of longevity. However, in order to obtain the long-term benefits, both an early start and continued small-class participation are important.


Smaller Classes Not Vouchers Increase Student Achievement
Alex Molnar; Keystone Research Center;1998

Why are Small Class Sizes So Effective?
The SAGE, STAR, and other studies reviewed in this report suggest small classes promote higher achievement for a range of mutually reinforcing reasons.

  • Children receive more individualized instruction.
  • Teachers can focus more on direct instruction and less on classroom management.
  • Students become more actively engaged in learning than peers in large classes.
  • Teachers identify learning disabilities sooner, but fewer children end up in special education classes because teachers can support them within small classes.
  • Teachers are more able to give children from low-income families and communities a critical, supportive adult influence.
  • Teachers are better able to engage family members and to work with parents to further a child’s education.
  • Teachers of small classes less often burn out.

The Effect of Class Size on Achievement: What the Research Says
Harold Wenglinksy

  • Students in small classes performed better than students in large classes for both grade levels, even taking into account student demographics, the overall resource levels, and cost of living.
  • Gains were larger for fourth graders than for eighth graders. Fourth graders in small classes were one-third of a grade level
  • The gains were larger for inner-city students than for any other group. For fourth graders in inner cities, the difference was three-quarters of a grade level, meaning that an inner-city student in a small class could be expected to progress 75 percent more quickly than he or she would have in a large class.

When Money Matters: How Educational Expenditures Improve Student Performance and How They Don’t
Harold Wenglinsky – 1997


Paying for Public Education: New Evidence on How and Why Money Matters
Harvard Journal on Legislation Ronald F. Ferguson – Summer 1991
An analysis of Texas data "Each additional student over 18 causes the district average score to fall by between 1/10 and 1/5 of a standard deviation in the interdistrict distribution of test scores for grades 1-7. This is among the strong effects for any variable in this study.”

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