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Class Size Reduction: Success Stories Noted in New Report

Last month, the U.S. Department of Education released a report, "Local Success Stories: Reducing Class Size." The 9-page report describes challenges and opportunities in efforts to reduce class size. Included: The latest research on class size reduction.

Last month, President Clinton announced the release of a Department of Education report, Local Success Stories: Reducing Class Size. The 9-page report describes challenges and opportunities in efforts to reduce class size, including recruiting qualified teachers; improving early reading achievement; strengthening accountability and turning around low-performing schools; and addressing space limitations.

"The report shows that in just one year, schools across America have actually hired over 29,000 new, highly-trained teachers, thanks to our class size reduction initiative," said Clinton at the release of the report. "It also shows that in the early grades in those schools, class size has been reduced by an average of five students per class. Over 1.7 million students are now directly benefiting from this class size initiative."

"It shows we are headed in the right direction, and that's the good news," Clinton added, tempering his enthusiasm by reminding the audience that "only a fraction of America's students have been reached. I am committed to providing more teachers and better teachers for all our schools. I want to make sure every young student in America receives the benefits of more individual attention and a more disciplined learning environment in a smaller class size setting."

In making the announcement of the new report, Secretary of Education Richard Riley said the report makes clear that funds from the Class Size Reduction Program passed last year "are already being put to good use and making a real difference in helping students learn." He emphasized the flexibility in this program, noting that it lets schools support their own local objectives and priorities. He pointed to

  • Columbus, Ohio. Funds from the Class Size Reduction Program are being used to help turn around low-performing schools by reducing class size from 25 to 15 in grades one through three.

  • Montgomery County, Maryland. Funds from this program are helping give every student in Grades 1-2 a class size of no more than 15 for reading instruction.

  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Jackson, Mississippi. These funds are helping hand in hand with efforts to recruit and prepare qualified teachers.

"Class size reduction is something that is so clearly beneficial to the ability of our students to learn and our teachers to teach that I am bewildered by any effort to stand in its way," Riley remarked. "The benefits of smaller class size -- for both students and teachers -- are abundantly clear. Research has shown that class size reduction in the early grades with a qualified teacher leads to higher student achievement in reading and math. And the benefits are greatest for disadvantaged and minority students. What is more, as recent analyses reveal, the payback that comes from participating in small classes increases from year to year."

REPORT EXCERPT:
LESSONS FROM EARLY IMPLEMENTATION

When a record 53.2 million students returned to school this fall, students and their teachers in the early grades began to benefit from a growing national effort to lower class size. This year, five states -- Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, and Wisconsin -- enacted new initiatives or significantly expanded existing initiatives to lower class size. As a result, some 20 states now have class size reduction initiatives in place. And in July, every state received its share of $1.2 billion provided by the U.S. Department of Education's new Class Size Reduction Program, an initiative to help communities hire 100,000 qualified teachers over seven years in order to reduce class size in grades one through three to a national average of 18 students.

These funds are already being put to good use. Based on preliminary data from nearly 46 percent of the nation's school districts, the Department of Education estimates that:

  • In 1999, more than 29,000 teachers have been hired with Class Size Reduction Program funds.

  • Approximately 1.7 million children are expected to benefit directly in the 1999-2000 school year by being educated in smaller classes.

  • School districts are concentrating this first installment of funds so that it makes a big difference for some students immediately. Average class size has been reduced by more than five students in the grade levels and schools where the vast majority of teachers hired with these funds teach.

    *** 42% of the teachers are teaching in first grade. In their schools, average class size fell from approximately 23 students to approximately 17 students.

    *** 23% of the teachers are teaching in second grade. In their schools, average class size fell from 23 students to less than 18 students.

    *** 24% of the teachers are teaching in third grade. In their schools, average class size fell from more than 23 students to just over 18 students.

  • In order to strengthen teacher quality, school districts are using approximately 8% of the funds they received to support professional development for teachers.

REPORT EXCERPT:
GROWING EVIDENCE THAT SMALLER CLASSES MAKE A DIFFERENCE

In March 1999, the Department of Education released Reducing Class Size: What Do We Know? That report summarized substantial research showing that class size reduction in the early grades leads to higher student achievement in reading and math when class size is reduced to 15-20 students. The benefits of smaller classes are greatest for disadvantaged and minority students. Additional studies, reported recently, have confirmed and expanded on these findings:

Smaller classes lead to lasting academic improvements. Several new analyses of the Tennessee Class Size Reduction program show that reducing class size has both immediate and long-term benefits. The benefits of participating in small classes increase from year to year, both in the early grades when classes are small and in subsequent years when students are placed in larger classes. At the end of fifth grade, students who were in small classes in grades one through three were about half a school year (5 months) ahead of students from larger classes, in all subjects -- reading, language arts, math, and science. Further, follow-up studies of the same students show that high school students who were in small classes in grades one through three beginning in 1985 were less likely to be held back a year or be suspended compared with their peers from larger classes. Students from small classes were found to be making better grades in high school and taking more advanced courses.

Teachers benefit too. Research on Wisconsin's class size reduction effort (SAGE) show that both teachers and students benefit from smaller classes. Teachers spend more time on instruction and less time on discipline problems. Teachers say they know their students better, know where each child is in the learning process, and can provide more individualized instruction. All of these improvements in teaching are matched by increased student achievement, making teaching more rewarding.

Beyond academics. The benefits of reduced class size in the early grades go beyond the well-documented improvements in reading, mathematics, and science. Smaller classes also lead to better identification of students who need special help, increased student participation and engagement, improved behavior, and reduced retention in grade. In a recent book, Professor Charles Achilles concluded that the outcomes associated with small classes are the foundation of safe schools: improved student behavior and human relations skills; increased participation in schooling and school-sanctioned events; increased sense of community in small classes; and generally improved school climate where students, teachers and parents feel more comfortable.

KEEPING A PROMISE

"Nine out of ten students in our country attend public schools," noted President Clinton in his remarks about the new report. "The percentage of the funding coming from the federal government is already too meager, in my judgment. Therefore, our taxpayer money should go for more teachers and smaller classes in our public schools, not for vouchers for private schools." "I am absolutely committed to keeping the promise that I made, and the promise that Congress made, to reduce class size with more quality teachers in the early grades," Clinton concluded. "We need to work together to find a way to keep that promise."

RESEARCH SOURCES FOR THE "GROWING EVIDENCE" SECTION

  • Achilles, Charles (1999). "Let's Put Kids First, Finally: Getting Class Size Right." Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, Inc.
  • Finn, Jeremy D. and Charles M. Achilles. "Tennessee's Class Size Study: Findings, Implications, Misconceptions," pp 97-109 in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis (EEPA), Special Issue -- Class Size: Issues and New Findings, Volume 21, No. 2 (Summer 1999). Washington, D.C.: American Educational Research Association.
  • Pate-Bain, Helen; B. De Wayne Fulton, Jayne Boyd-Zaharias. "Effects of Class Size Reduction in the Early Grades (K-3) on High School Performance." Nashville: HEROS, Inc. 1999.
  • Molnar, Alex et. Al. "Evaluating the SAGE Program: A Pilot Program in Targeted Pupil-Teacher Reduction in Wisconsin." Pp. 165-177 in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis (EEPA), Special Issue -- Class Size: Issues and New Findings, Volume 21, No.2 (Summer 1999). Washington, D.C.: American Educational Research Association.

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Article by Gary Hopkins
(From reports issued by the U.S. Department of Education)
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Copyright © 2006 Education World

12/06/1999



 

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