November 27, 2009
Splashed across today’s Front Page of the San Mateo County Times is an article that reports on how class sizes are going up across the state. According to the article, “California Watch surveyed the thirty largest K-12 schools districts in the state and found that many schools are pushing class sizes to 24 in some or all of the early grades (K-3). Other district have raised class sizes to 30 students–reverting to levels not seen in more than a decade.”
When you dig deeper on this issue, it becomes quite clear that class sizes are going up because California is not funding schools adequately to maintain class sizes of 20 students in K-3. And, debate is heating up around the contention that class sizes of twenty does help to increase student achievement. The current research does not seem to bear this out.
This is one of those “dirty little secrets” that people in education do not want discussed. The fact is that research around small class sizes is completely mixed. For every research report cited in favor of class size reduction, there is another one that comes to the conclusion that class size reduction has no discernible effect on student achievement. A good summary of the research that California used to decide to implement class size reduction in the 1990’s can be found here.
In 2001, there was follow up research supported by the Rand Corporation that concluded that California’s class size reduction program did not result in improved student achievement. And, the cost for this program is estimated at MORE THAN TWO BILLION DOLLARS. That is a heck of a lot of money for a program that has delivered questionable results.
Class sizes of twenty do have some impacts to our education system. First, parents love the program because it does allow teachers to really get to know each of the kids. I do believe this is a very important, and often ignored, important result of having smaller class sizes. The second impact is a huge (and recurring) financial cost because it creates many more teaching positions. This reason is very important to the California Teachers Association leadership.
I think an important question that needs to be discussed openly is this: Given the current state budget mess, can California afford such a costly program that has yet to deliver on student achievement?
My personal opinion is that small class sizes are beneficial. Though CLC has had to slightly increase class sizes in grades 1-3 last year, we were able to reduce class sizes in Kindergarten to 18. In addition, we also reduced class sizes in grade 4 from 30 to 24. And, let’s not forget our middle school children. This group is often ignored and at CLC we have strived to keep class sizes below 30. So far, we have been successful. Our class sizes here at CLC are far from ideal, but necessary in the current financial environment. We do work hard to make sure each child feels connected to an adult staff member.
It is clear that the State of California does not value class sizes since it will not guarantee minimum funding to have class sizes of 20. Costs continue to rise and revenue continues to be cut. Is it no WONDER that school districts are in such dire financial straits?