Florida Study Shows Class Size Reduction Far from Promising Reform Approach

All things being equal, most parents and teachers want smaller class sizes for their kids in school. Isn’t that a great idea? Parents like to see their children get more individualized attention in the classroom, and teachers prefer a more controlled environment and a smaller workload. And who can blame them?

To some extent, this reasoning makes sense. A class of 25 or 30 little Eddies is more manageable than a class filled with 50 or 60 of me (I can only imagine what kind of nightmares my mom would have reading that!). But given the fact of limited resources and the need to make policy decisions that lead to the best results for the most students, how wise is it to focus education spending on class size reduction?

Well, voters in the state of Florida eight years ago decided to enact a Class Size Amendment and spend billions of dollars to gradually hire more teachers to make classes smaller — first at the district-level average, then at the school level-average, and finally in each classroom. My Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow recently wrote an article for School Reform News about a new study that calls this expensive policy decision into question:

The study by Harvard education policy research fellow Matt Chingos finds resources assigned to shrink teacher-student ratios are not used effectively. According to the study, Florida school districts that spent money on class-size reduction did not outperform districts that used the equivalent funds for different purposes.

“I find there is no real difference there,” Chingos said. [Link Added]

In education, class size certainly matters to a point — and more so for high-poverty students in the early grades. But given the chance to focus on improving teacher quality or reducing class size, improving teacher quality wins every time.