Smaller class sizes have long been proven to be crucial to a child’s learning process, especially during the child’s early years. And as school budgets tighten, increasing class size often becomes the solution, sparking debates among politicians, education officials and reformers.
Education reform officials have long held to the notion that smaller classes are the key to student success. When Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney downplayed the importance of class size during a recent event where he outlined his education plans, reform groups were quick to criticize.
Citing a seminal study, Leonie Haimson, Executive Director of Class Size Matters, chastised both Romney and Obama in an open letter over their policies concerning class size.
In the letter Haimson explained that a principal of a charter school pointed out the following, “There was a study done by the University of Tennessee, a definitive study about class size and what they said was that in first through third grade, if the class size is under 18 those kids stay ahead of everybody else all the way through school, including classes where you might have 25 in the class and co-teachers. Those students lose their gains after a couple years. If you have small classes in those primary years, those most important years, that’s what makes the difference.”
Haimson called on Obama to act on his proclamations to reduce class size and rein in Education Secretary Arne Duncan for comments defending increasing class size. However, decreasing K-12 class sizes is an expensive proposition—according to the report, it can cost up to $10 billion a year.
One new report from the Southern Regional Educational Board, however, shows that as children get older, class size becomes less important, explaining that increasing class size can be done while maintaining high student achievement.
The study offers the following recommendations:
• States should maintain smaller classes where the research shows academic benefit — pre-K through third grade and for certain groups of students, including students at risk of academic failure.
• If class size is increased at any grade level, states should require schools to monitor individual student achievement in those grades continuously to reduce the chances of failure.
• As new measures of teacher effectiveness are implemented, state leaders need to study the relationships between class size, teacher effectiveness and student performance to determine how to adjust class size and leverage academic gains.
• States need to inform the public about their class-size policies, particularly when they or their legislatures contemplate changing them.
While this proposal is sure to generate its fair share of criticisms and may not catch on, the report addresses the inevitable situation of increasing class size to trim budgets. It offers a potential solution to a situation that has yet to be solved, but more importantly it points toward a much needed compromise.
Daniel Duerden is a writer and content editor for 360 Education Solutions