Policy Brief #23, August 1998
Joan Mc Robbie, WestEd
Jeremy D. Finn, Laboratory for Student Success (LSS)
Patrick Harman, SouthEastern Regional Vision for Education (SERVE)
- Effect on Student Achievement
- Costs and Benefits
- Policy Choices and Trade-Offs
- Four CSR Initiatives
- Authors and Contact Information
New federal class size reduction (CSR) proposals have further
fueled a growing national interest in this approach to boosting
student achievement. CSR is readily understood and appeals to
common sense. Many see it as a means of sending dollars directly
to the classroom rather than to the bureaucracy. It is enormously
popular, a factor that makes it an attractive and politically
viable policy option. At this writing, at least half the states
and a number of school districts have enacted or are considering
some form of CSR.
Though researchers continue to debate the issue, wide agreement
exists that the critical question is not whether class size can
make a difference in student achievement, but how and under what
circumstances it does. Highly related are questions of CSRs costs.
Do they outweigh its benefits? Are other alternatives more cost
effective? Finally, for those designing CSR policies, especially
on a large scale, many questions must be addressed about the implementation
trade-offs of differing policy options and how these may affect
This brief addresses each of these concerns, drawing from the experiences of
a number of states and districts with some track record implementing CSR. It
starts from the position that class size reduction is not a silver bullet or
an end in itself. Rather, CSR is one approach that has been shown effective
in reaching the real goal: improved early learning. Success depends on getting
the numbers down and on policies that support schools ability to take
advantage of the opportunities CSR presents
1. Do small classes in and of themselves affect student learning?
"Yes" is the answer that emerged from Project STAR, the largest,
longest-lasting, and most controlled study to date on class size. After decades
of inconclusive research on small classes, STAR was able to show definitively
what parents and teachers have long believed: that bringing class size down
in the primary grades in and of itself has positive effects on student achievement
in all subject areas (see box). STARs small classes
had 1217 students, while the control "large" group had 2226.
Children who gained most from smaller classes were minority students and those
in inner-city schools. And the benefits lasted, at least through 7th grade.
Several recent smaller studies generally support STARs findings, notably
in terms of gains for urban minority students. (See #9.)
2.What conditions are critical to achieving the small-class effect?
In Project STAR, Tennessee schools were "laboratories" for class
size research. Certain conditions prevailed without which the
positive effects of small classes may not occur. Chief among those
Adequate supply of good teachers. No organizational arrangement, including small class size, can
compensate for poor teaching. In Tennessee, all STAR teachers
were state certified and qualified to teach in their assigned
grades. Even among the small classes, some teachers were more
effective than others; researchers have yet to study what may
have caused these differences.
Sufficient classroom space. STARs participating schools had no problem finding appropriate
space to create enough classrooms for the reduction in numbers
of students per teacher.
A representative student mix in each class. In STAR, the mixture of students in the class was determined
at random and so mirrored the diversity in the school as a whole.
Research has not revealed what would happen if, for example, 17
pupils with learning or behavior problems were assigned to a small
class. In such a case, positive effects are less likely without
the infusion of significant additional resources.
Teacher access to adequate materials and services. STAR teachers had
no change in the materials and services normally available to them. Small- and
regular-class teachers had access to reading specialists, school psychologists,
special education programs (although there is evidence that the need for these
services was reduced), and other schoolwide services. Small classes were not
intended to serve as a substitute for other programs with demonstrated efficacy
(including bilingual programs).
3.What do we know about why small classes are academically beneficial?
As classes shrink, other possibilities grow. Specifically, some
studies have found that small classes allow teachers to spend
more time on instruction and less on classroom management. One such study from Australia also suggested that smaller classes
allow more and more protracted interaction between teachers
and individual students. (1) Limited observations of 52 of STARs 2nd grade classrooms showed
that teachers could better monitor student reading progress and
were more consistent in managing behavior. (2) Likewise, observations of small and regular classes in North
Carolina discovered more "on-task events" and fewer "institutional
events" (e.g., disciplinary or organizational) in the small classes.(3)
In California, which began shrinking primary-grade classes in 1996, teachers
surveyed in a preliminary study report that they are using more small-group
instruction and better assessment techniques. (4) They
also say they can cover the curriculum faster and in greater depth. The study
also supports STAR findings that students in small classes are more motivated.
In a STAR follow-up questionnaire, 4th grade teachers rated students from small
classes much higher than their large-class counterparts on effort (e.g.,
pays attention in class; completes assignments; works well with other children)
and initiative taking (e.g., does more than just the assigned work; asks
questions to get more information). Small-class students, they said, were
far less apt to be disruptive, passive, or withdrawn. (5)
Given the high stability of behaviors such as these over the years, it may be
that both the immediate and long-term benefits of small classes occur because
students are better engaged.
4. How small is small enough?
No one knows what the optimal class size is. Many states and districts are
currently shrinking classes to 20 or 18. (6) STAR researchers
continue to analyze the question, but can only say at this point that the greater
the class size beyond 17, the less the likelihood that the outcomes will be
as positive. Earlier research suggested that the most dramatic gains accrue
when class size shrinks to 15 or below. (7) Another
unknown is the academic influence of the "drop factor," i.e., the
magnitude of the drop in class size. For example, a drop from 30 to 18 is clearly
more dramatic (and expensive) than a drop from 22 to 18. Whether it makes a
greater difference in student learning is unclear.
5. Can small-class features be identified and used in large classes
to create a small-class environment?
While some suggest that using grouping strategies in large classes can help
create a small-class environment, Project STAR found that the defining feature
of success is smallness itself. STAR analysts conclude that only smallness reduces
the number of institutional events, creates an environment in which every student
becomes engaged in learning, and allows the teacher to attend to every student.
Not addressed by STAR are variations on reducing class size all day in all classes
for example, placing students in small classes for part of the day for
subjects such as reading and math while having larger groups for PE or art.
6. For how long do students need to be in small classes to gain
the lasting benefits?
No one knows. The STAR research as well as a smaller study done in North Carolina
(8) suggest that the main benefits occur in the first
year a student is in a small class and are sustained or increase slightly
after that. Economist Alan Krueger says a possible explanation is that
attending a small class in the lower grades may confer a one-time "school
socialization effect" that permanently raises the level of student achievement.
(9) Others surmise that successive years of small classes
may have helped sustain the gains. But researchers as yet cannot say whether
one year of small classes may be just as effective as three or four and, if
so, which age or grade level should be the focus. STAR data are currently being
re-analyzed to answer these questions.
7. Is CSR worth the cost?
Whether CSR is cost-effective is a matter of much debate. One
problem is that although cost ingredients can be fairly reliably
calculated (see #8), quantifying benefits is more complex. Consider that the effects
on reading may be different from those on math, for example, or
that effects may differ from one student population to another.(10)
Some argue that in the long run, potential benefits may offset
costs. In addition to across-the-board academic gains, some research
suggests that small classes in the primary grades begin students
on a path that reduces the need for special education, grade retentions
or disciplinary measures and increases the likelihood of high
school graduation. (11) Such outcomes translate into real savings.
To date, there are few well-controlled studies that compare one
intervention with another. That makes it difficult for policymakers
to weigh an investment in CSR against spending on alternatives
such as peer tutoring, professional development, or computer-assisted
instruction that have been shown effective (though not in large-scale,
randomized experiments such as STAR).
The issue is further complicated by questions of social priorities.
If CSR is deemed important for the next generation of students,
how much is too much to spend? More specifically, how much academic
improvement is enough to justify a given expenditure? And CSRs
popularity adds yet another dimension to the debate: political
viability. As Congress bogged down in partisan arguments last
year over school reform and national testing, Californias "bold
stroke" of CSR had the backing of educators, Democrats, Republicans,
unions, and taxpayers. (12) For policymakers convinced of CSRs benefits but concerned about
its costs, this widespread appeal may hold sway.
Economic analyses of CSRs worth may have confused the issue rather
than providing answers. Economists have debated whether there
is a relationship between class size and student learning. (Among
them, Hanushek concludes there is no relationship; others, e.g.,
Hedges et al. and Wenglinsky, disagree. ) But in fact, such studies have looked at pupil-teacher ratio
rather than actual class size, and the two are not the same.
Pupil-teacher ratio is the number of students in a school or district compared
to the number of teaching professionals. In an urban district, which may employ
a number of part-time professionals such as Title 1 and special education teachers
or reading specialists, that ratio may be 15:1 or lower, though each regular
class with its own teacher may contain 30 or more children. In STAR, other small-class
research, and in state CSR initiatives discussed in this brief, "small
classes" has meant the number of pupils actually in classrooms.
8. How much does CSR typically cost?
Calculating the cost of a statewide CSR program involves considering
a number of ingredients, (14) including:
- Initial average class size. The larger the drop to "small," the
greater the cost.
- Whether there is a rigid cap or flexibility in the number of students
per teacher. A rigid cap will increase the cost by decreasing
the final average class size. Schools will keep numbers down to
ensure staying below the cap.
- The cost of teachers hired for CSR. This depends on the salary
scale of each district and the experience level of the teachers
hired. Teacher costs will increase with time as teachers move
up the salary ladder. And costs of teacher support may need to
be factored in. (See California example that follows and #10.)
- The cost of facilities for providing new classrooms.
- Added operational costs such as costs for utilities and for custodial
and clerical services when a once-closed school is re-opened.
- Potential cost offsets, e.g., due to less grade retention. (See #7.)
As an example, costs in California have played out as follows:
- Operations. Some $771 million allocated the first year covered incentive
funding of $650 (since raised to $800) for each primary-grade student in a
class of no more than 20. Actual per-pupil costs varied by district from $0
to $1,000. Actual class sizes are about 19:1 to ensure remaining under the
cap and such hedging increases costs by as much as 21 percent. If the
class size averaged 20, per-pupil costs for the average district would
be $630, according to the Legislative Analyst, who estimates a long-run per-pupil
cost of about $1,020 (in current dollars) or a statewide annual total of at
least $1.3 billion.
- Facilities. The state allocated $200 million the first year. Actual
expenditures were about $500 million, though many schools merely reconfigured
existing space. The average first-year cost of $28,000 per new classroom jumps
to an estimated $73,000 for completing K3 reductions, since districts
must now purchase portables or build. Again, the rigid cap rather than
an average of 20 significantly increases costs.
- Staff development. Under Californias legislation, districts
must use existing funds to provide staff development specific to smaller classes.
("Staff development" here encompasses not only inservice but also
de facto preservice development for teachers hired on
emergency permits.) No district spending estimates are available, but with
so many inexperienced and/or uncredentialed teachers (see see
box), the need for support is great.
9. Are there ways to contain the costs of reducing class size?
Hiring more teachers and creating more classrooms is an expensive
way to gain the benefits of smaller classes. Alternative ways
of funding CSR can help contain the costs. These include:
Targeting the resources. The investment can be directed to schools that need it most
for example, those serving poor and/or minority students. After
studying whether CSRs benefits could be gained at a lower cost,
economist Allan Odden recommended reducing class size for students
achieving below grade level and combining individual tutoring
with classes reduced to 15 students for language artsreading
instruction. (15) He also proposed coupling small classes with a "larger, comprehensive
set of strategies" shown to be effective for low-income, ethnic,
and language minority students.
Wisconsins Student Achievement Guarantee in Education (SAGE)
chose this tack. SAGE targets primary-grade children who live
in poverty. It provides up to $2000 extra dollars per low-income
student in participating classrooms at 30 schools. Besides maintaining
a 15:1 ratio, SAGE requires its schools to implement a rigorous
academic curriculum, provide before- and after-school activities,
and implement professional development and accountability plans.
A first-year evaluation showed SAGE students performing significantly
better than a comparison group in reading, language arts, and
math. (16) African-American males, in particular, seemed to benefit.
Allowing local flexibility in attaining smaller-class goals. Policies can set CSR goals as a means of improving achievement,
then encourage local creativity in reaching those goals. Schools
can combine new funding with a reallocation of existing funds
as well as re-think schedules to devise an array of small-class
arrangements. Approaches being tried include:
Redistributing resources. A number of districts or schools have re-examined all available
resources with an eye on finding ways to apply funds to CSR. Title
1 funds have become one common means of reducing class sizes in
high-poverty schools. Two examples from North Carolina are Oak
Hill Elementary in Guilford County, which has reduced class sizes
in K2 from 23 to 15, (17) and Hillcrest Elementary in Burke County, which in 1991 began
using Title 1 funds to reduce grades 13 to 15 as part of a countywide
Burke County has defrayed CSRs costs by using state dollars for
full-time teacher assistants to fund regular teaching positions
instead. State funds given to Burke as a "low-wealth" county have
been applied to the CSR initiative as well. Schools in other parts
of the state, such as Draper Elementary in Rockingham County,
have adopted a whole-school approach to reduce classes to approximately
13 in grades 14. The K5 school had 23 teaching positions plus
two teacher assistants, two "specialty" positions (PE, Spanish,
music), and a Title 1 teacher. By eliminating categorization and
re-defining roles, the school "found" five extra teacher positions
to use for its CSR initiative.
Creative scheduling. Some school faculties have also devised alternative
schedules to reduce class size for a portion of the day. Little research has
been conducted on the impact on student learning, but such changes can potentially
achieve some of the benefits of smaller classes. One variation is parallel
block scheduling. (18) While half the class are
taught critical subject areas such as reading and math, the rest attend specialty
classes such as music, art, or computer lab in larger groups. Another variation
is the Oak Park Plan, (19) which requires that all teachers
in a school including specialists teach 15 students in core academic
areas (reading, language arts, and math) for three hours a day. For the remaining
2.5 hours, subjects are taught in regular class sizes of approximately 25 students,
and specialists provide services and consultation. (See also #14.)
Drafting CSR legislation or initiatives involves weighing a range of choices,
trade-offs, and as yet unanswered questions. Factors such as scale of implementation,
demographics, resources, student mobility and enrollment growth rates vary markedly
from place to place, making it difficult to say that strategies effective in
one locale will be equally so in another. Questions to address when designing
CSR policies include:
10. Is the necessary infrastructure in place to support CSR?
The two key infrastructure pieces are teaching and facilities,
and each has its own set of questions.
Teaching. Will there be enough qualified teachers for the number of new
classrooms created? Are existing policies on emergency or alternative
credentialing consistent with your goals? Will there be enough
specially-trained teachers e.g., for limited-English proficient
(LEP) or special education students? Will the policy create an
incentive for teacher job shifts e.g., from special to general
education; from substitute to permanent status; from preschool
to primary-grade teaching? If so, what are the implications?
Teachers have reported that a switch to smaller classes finally
allowed them to do what they know works. But if CSR leads to the
hiring of many inexperienced or unprepared teachers, those teachers
will require support (e.g., mentoring; modeling) to learn and
use effective classroom strategies. Moreover, in a policy climate
in which CSR initiatives are accompanied by raised standards,
new assessments, and/or stringent accountability measures, even
veteran teachers may need more knowledge and skills, not just
smaller classes, to meet increased expectations.
In California, no one knows whether the hiring of thousands of
inexperienced and uncredentialed teachers will alter intended
outcomes for CSR (see box). In some urban districts, schools
with the highest concentrations of limited-English proficient
students also have the largest numbers of teachers hired for CSR
on emergency credentials. They have no special training and, often,
no bilingual aides. (20)
Facilities. Will existing facilities accommodate the number of new classrooms
created by the new policy? Is enrollment growth a factor? What
shifts may occur due to space crunches? Will they affect other
California schools have purchased portables when possible, but many have also
usurped space from other programs (see box 1), reconfigured
schools (e.g., moving 6th graders to middle schools), switched to year-round
scheduling, changed school boundaries, remodeled schools, canceled inter- and
intra-district transfers, and/or re-opened schools previously closed. (21)
In Nevada, rapid growth and lack of facility funding have resulted in many large,
team-taught classes (22) (see matrix
and #15). In Utah, space problems have blocked schools
in crowded districts from reaching their targeted reduction levels (23)
Tennessee’s Project STAR
In 1985, an exceptionally
well-designed, scientifically-controlled experiment called Project
STAR (Student/Teacher Achievement Ratio) was undertaken in Tennessee
to formally test three tentative conclusions that had emerged from
decades of class size research: 1) If small classes are academically
beneficial, the benefits are obtained as class size is reduced below
20 pupils; 2) Small classes are likely to be most beneficial in the
early primary grades; and 3) Students from economically
disadvantaged homes are likely to reap the greatest
The four-year STAR study
involved about 7,000 students each year in over 300 classrooms. On
entering kindergarten, students were assigned at random to a small
class (12—17 students) or regular class (22—26). Teachers were
assigned at random as well. Both norm- and criterion-referenced
tests were administered at the end of each school year. STAR’s
results, combined with the weight of other evidence, provide us with
better answers than ever before to several key questions
policymakers ask when considering class size reduction
By design, the STAR study
allowed researchers to show a causal relationship between class size
and learning, controlling for characteristics of the students and
the school. Their analysis showed:
- positive results for small
classes, year after year (K, 1, 2, and 3), in all subject areas
and all school locales (inner city, urban, suburban, rural)
- similar results for boys
- greater academic benefits –
often about twice as great – for minoritystudents or
students attending inner-city schools
- lasting benefits through
grade 7 or beyond, even though all students were returned to
regular-size classes in grade 4.
It is important to note that
no other interventions accompanied the assignment of pupils to small
classes. Teachers were "regular" grade-level teachers, given no
special training either during the school year or at other times.
The small classes were kept small for the entire day. No special
curricula or materials were used. Teachers were allowed to teach as
they would normally, making any reasonable accommodations to their
class as they might under usual conditions.
STAR researchers and others
have been asked many times whether other interventions should
accompany a small-class initiative. Unfortunately, STAR did not
address this question. It is entirely possible that additional
benefits would accrue if teachers were provided with additional
materials or assistance, if methods were devised to take maximum
advantage of the small-class setting, or if other interventions were
introduced as well, e.g., an intensive program in reading
instruction. However, these add-ons are not needed to reap the
academic benefits of small classes in the primary grades.
11. Should CSR be used in conjunction with other strategies?
Some research suggests that comprehensive planning can make a difference in
the effectiveness of CSR. In a study in Austin, Texas, for example, achievement
and attendance remained extremely low at 13 of 15 low-performing schools, while
the other two showed dramatic gains. (24) Those two
combined CSR with other changes such as new curricula and teaching methods focused
on individual attention, increased parent involvement, and health services.
In Utah, which began CSR in 1990, a study found smaller classes most effective
in districts that focused on improving achievement rather than just getting
the numbers down. Successful schools combined CSR with teacher development,
instructional improvement, and productive use of personnel and resources. (25)
In Nevada, where CSR began in 1989, new legislation prompted by school districts
allows districts to opt either to expand existing primary-grade CSR to 3rd grade
(at a 19:1 ratio) or after approval from the state superintendent
to use their share of CSR funding to implement comprehensive programs such as
Reading Recovery or Success for All, which have been shown effective in improving
reading and math achievement in grades 13.
12. Will CSR be optional or mandatory?
An optional CSR program may, de facto, leave school and district leaders
with little choice. In California, two realities have made rapid implementation
all but mandatory: most districts are loath to turn away money after decades
of successive cuts, and CSRs intense popularity and press coverage created
enormous pressure to move fast and implement fully.
13. Will the funding be flat or wealth-adjusted?
It can be argued that an approach allotting the same amount of money for every
student is regressive. For example, Californias program allots $800 of
incentive money for every student in a 20:1 primary class.Given the states
diversity, this "one size fits all policy," combined with public pressure
to implement and lack of flexibility, has raised the following equity issues:
- Some districts already had smaller classes and therefore had little trouble
meeting the 20:1 cap within the dollars allotted. Others particularly
urban districts have had to dig deeply into their own coffers to hire
enough teachers and create classrooms, since the allotment fell short of their
needs. Money is then diverted away from other grades or programs.
- Urban districts have had the hardest time recruiting qualified teachers.
Nearly all of the states new emergency-credentialed teachers are in
the urban schools, which also serve the largest numbers of poor and limited-English
- Urban schools have had the hardest time finding space for new classrooms.
Many are landlocked and cant sacrifice more playground space for portables.
One upshot is that in California, students most likely to benefit from smaller
classes minority and inner-city children may be those least likely
to have full opportunity to do so.
Formula-based funding can help offset inequities. Utah uses a formula that
initially allotted 80 percent of the state K6 CSR funding on a per-pupil
basis, with 20 percent reserved for districts with rapid growth but an insufficient
tax base. (By design, the reserve pot is shrinking; eventually, all funding
will be allotted per pupil.)
Tennessee Versus California
The profound contrasts between Tennessees Project STAR and Californias
experiences illustrate the difficulty of implementing a proven intervention
in a different setting. STARs impressive findings greatly
influenced California legislators decision to enact CSR in
1996. But STAR was an experiment involving over 11,000 students
and conducted under controlled conditions. California has instituted
a statewide program involving some 1.3 million children and holding
no other variables constant. Small classes in STAR averaged 15.
Californias are closer to Tennessees control-group size
of 2226. Most students in the STAR study were white or African
American. Californias K3 students are exceedingly diverse;
nearly one third are not native English speakers. Moreover, Tennessee
had no shortage of fully-credentialed teachers or classroom space
for implementing STAR. And school staffs had adequate time to prepare.
Californias first year of implementation, for which staffs
had almost no time to plan, required hiring 18,400 new teachers.
Half were inexperienced; 30 percent were uncredentialed; and 21
percent were hired on emergency permits, meaning they had college
degrees and had passed a competency test, but lacked any preparation
for teaching. Finding 18,000 new classrooms meant turning libraries,
music rooms, computer and science labs, childcare centers, faculty
lounges, and even stages in auditoriums into primary classrooms,
either temporarily or permanently.
Its too soon to tell whether or how Californias achievement
outcomes will differ from Tennessees. Moreover, evaluation
will be complicated by such factors as the absence of baseline data
to measure gains against, the initial absence of a statewide test
as a common yardstick, and the states plan to make shifts
in the statewide test it now has. Once results are in, theres
the problem of interpretation, given the range of overlapping reform
efforts in Californias schools. In short, as Stanfords
Michael Kirst says, "If you get an effect, how can you be sure
class size is the cause?" Conversely, if you dont get
an effect, how can you be sure what got in the way?
14. Will there be a rigid cap or is the number of students per
Decisions here have significant implications for cost, teaching
quality, facilities, and other logistical considerations. Options
include capping the number of students per teacher, specifying
an average across a school or district, or specifying differing
levels of reductions (e.g., greater reductions in high-poverty
Besides urging a district average to lower program costs, Californias
Legislative Analyst advocates allowing districts to hire the number
of teachers they would need to implement 20:1, but then also allowing
flexibility in how the district deploys those teachers. For example,
teachers could be assigned to do one-on-one or small-group tutoring
to supplement classroom instruction.
Utah does not stipulate a cap. District officials have discretion over
allocations to schools, and school staffs have leeway in how they achieve
smaller classes. For example, at some schools, half the students attend
from 8:002:00, the other half from 10:004:00. The split schedule
allows each group a two-hour time block in classes of 1820 for subjects
such as reading and math. PE and social studies are taught in some
cases team-taught in classes of 40.
15. Will small classes be self-contained or team-taught?
Actual smaller classes are qualitatively different from mere changes
in the pupil-teacher ratio. (See #7.) In Nevada, where facilities
are funded entirely with local rather than state money, state
CSR policy allows the 16:1 ratio in 1st and 2nd grades to be achieved
by having two teachers in a classroom with 32 students. In Spring
1998, some 36 percent (down from 40 percent the prior year) of
Nevadas "reduced size" 1st and 2nd grade classes contained 32
children with two teachers. (27) Though a limited evaluation study showed small gains over eight
years of CSR, many worry that the team-taught classes may be limiting
Attention to class size is a timely and appropriate focus for
education policy. Class size reduction has enormous intuitive
and political appeal, bolstered by research that shows smaller
classes are good for learning as well as behavior. But designing
a successful CSR policy is no simple matter. As knowledge from
state and local experiences continues to evolve, some lessons
- Since research shows that children in the primary grades and especially
minority and low-income children benefit most from smaller classes,
it makes sense to direct resources particularly toward these children. For
example, funding formulas can strive to offset the difficulties inner-city
schools face in attracting good teachers and finding classroom space.
- A fundamental condition for the success of CSR or any educational intervention
is good teaching. If schools need to hire new or especially
unprepared teachers to enact a CSR policy, they will need resources for beginning-teacher
support. Research, experience, and a policy climate of higher expectations
suggest that novices and veterans alike may need support to learn strategies
that build on the opportunities smaller classes present.
- CSR requires adequate facilities. Policymakers at all levels need to attend
to facility issues or risk compromising expensive investments in smaller classes.
- CSR policies that allow flexibility in use of funds help keep the focus
on improving learning, not just getting the numbers down. Schools given leeway
in exchange for accountability can tailor decisions to the needs of their
own students. School leaders can then use this highly popular reform as a
catalyst for engaging each community in comprehensive planning to increase
achievement, with smaller classes being a central means to that end.
- It is essential that CSR initiatives be accompanied by evaluation and research,
focused especially on unanswered questions, e.g., the outcomes of creative
approaches to CSR.
- Burke County, North Carolina
Policy Intent, Elements
- Goal: improve early literacy by lowering K-3 class size from average
of 29 to 20.
- Voluntary. Incentive dollars offered for each pupil in K-3 class
of no more than 20.
- Professional development required, using existing funds.
- 1997-8: $800 per pupil or appr. $1.5 billion.
- 1996-7: $650 per pupil plus $200 million facilities, or appr.
$1.1 billion total.
- All K-3 (appr 1.3 million students).
- Implement in 1st, then 2nd, then K and/or 3rd.
Level of Implementation
- Intense public pressure to implement quickly.
- Not enough qualified teachers (21% of 1996-7 new hires on emergency
- Not enough classroom space (by 1998-99, each small class must
- Enrollment boom.
- Equity (due to regressive funding, rigid 20:1 cap, no phase-in).
Policy Intent, Elements
- Mandatory, phased-in program to lower early-grade size from average
of 25 to 16. Began with 1st grade and some at-risk K; expanded
to 2nd in 1991-2.
- Funding for 1998-9 can be used to reduce 3rd to 19:1 or to adopt
proven comprehensive programs (K-3) to improve achievement.
- Funds teachers, based on estimated enrollment. No facilities funding.
- 1997-9: $147.5 million.
- 1989-97: $254 million.
- Funds are appropriated to a CSR trust fund, thus kept separate
from the school finance formula (and allowing an accurate count
- Grades 1 & 2, at-risk K, and some 3.
- Not enough classroom space (36% of reduced 1st & 2nd grade classes
are team taught rather than self-contained).
- Enrollment boom, especially in Clark County (Las Vegas), which
grew by 75% from 1984-1994.
Policy Intent, Elements
- Focus on reading. State strategic plan identifies goal of lowering
class size to 10 in K; to 15 in grades 1-3.
- Funds distributed by formula: 80% per student, 20% low income
(on per-school basis). Is evolving toward 100% allotment on per
- No cap. District flexibility in distribution to schools; school
flexibility to be creative. (For middle-school funds, districts
must submit advance plan.)
- Approximately $225 per student.
- Total allocation approximately $121 million since 1990. (In yrs
1 & 2, districts could use up to 25% for facilities.)
- For 1998-9, $9 million added for 7th & 8th grades.
- Initially K-4 (with half of district allocation to focus on K-2);
expanded to K-6 in 1996-7.
- 1998-9: 7th & 8th grades added.
- Low income targeted with 20% of funding.
Level of Implementation
- Most K-6 classes now 21-25; greatest reductions in K-4.
- Not enough classroom space in non-rural areas.
- Enrollment boom (now leveling off).
Policy Intent, Elements
- Goal: Increase reading and math achievement.
- Initial funding from contingency monies. Later funding from supplemental
low-wealth state funds, converted teacher assistant funds, and
- Approximately $1.2 million dollars annually.
- Grades 1 & 2, at-risk K, and some 3.
- Grades 1-3. Initially piloted in 1st grade at four elementary
schools. Expansion was contingent upon evaluation results. After
pilot year, program was expanded to 1st grade in all 14 elementary schools,
then to 2nd and 3rd as space allowed.
Level of Implementation
- Class size of 15 in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grades in all 14 elementary
- Initial board strife over financing CSR.
1 S. Bourke, "How Smaller Is Better: Some Relationships Between
Class Size, Teaching Practices and Student Achievement," American Educational Research Journal, 23: 558571, 1986.
2 Carolyn M. Evertson and John K. Folger, Small Class, Large Class: What Do Teachers Do Differently?, paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational
Research Association, San Francisco, March 1989.
3 Charles M. Achilles, K. Kiser-Kling, A. Aust, and J. Owen, Success Starts Small: Life in a Small Class. (Final Report, Small-Grant School-Based Research), Greensboro,
NC: University of North Carolina, 1994.
4 Edward Wexler, JoAnn Izu, Lisa Carlos, Bruce Fuller and Mike
Kirst, Californias Class Size Reduction: Implications for Equity Practice
and Implementation, San Francisco and Berkeley: WestEd and Policy Analysis for California
Education (PACE), 1998.
5 Jeremy D. Finn, John K. Folger, and Deborah Cox, "Measuring Participation
among Elementary Grade Students," Educational and Psychological Measurement, 51: 393402, 1991.
6 Charles M. Achilles, If Not Before, At Least Now, paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational
Research Association, San Diego, April 1998.
7 Gene V. Glass, Leonard S. Cahen, Mary Lee Smith, and Nikola N.
Filby, School Class Size: Research and Policy, Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications, 1982.
8 Paula Egelson, Patrick Harman, and Charles M. Achilles, Does Class Size Make a Difference?, Greensboro, NC: SouthEastern Regional Vision for Education, 1996.
9 Alan B. Krueger, Experimental Estimates of Education Production Functions: Princeton: Princeton University Department of Economics, 1998.
10 Jeremy D. Finn, Class Size and Students at Risk: What Is Known? What Is Next?, Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational
Research and Improvement, National Institute on the Education
of At-Risk Students, 1998.
11 Jeremy D. Finn and Charles M. Achilles, Tennessees Class-Size Study: Questions Answered, Questions Posed paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational
Research Association, San Diego, April 1998.
Finn, Class Size and Students at Risk.
12 Thomas Toch and Betsy Streisand, "Does Class Size Matter?," U.S. News & World Report, October 13, 1997.
13 L. V. Hedges, R. D. Laine, and R. Greenwald, "Does Money Matter?
A Meta-analysis of Studies of the Effects of Differential School
Inputs on Student Outcomes," Educational Researcher, 23: 514, 1994.
Harold Wenglinsky, When Money Matters, Princeton:Policy Information Center, Educational Testing Service,
14 This section draws substantially from Joel Schwartz, Class Size Reduction (Policy Brief), Sacramento, CA: Legislative Analysts Office,
February 12, 1997.
15 Allan Odden, "Class Size and Student Achievement: Research-based
Policy Alternatives," Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 12 (2): 213227, 1990.
16 Peter Maier, Alex Molnar, Stephen Percy, Phillip Smith, and John
Zaborik, First Year Results of the Student Achievement Guarantee in Education
Program (Executive Summary), Milwaukee: University of Wisconsin, Center
for Urban Initiatives and Research, December 1997.
17 Achilles et al., Success Starts Small.
18 R. L. Canady, "Parallel Block Scheduling: A Better Way to Organize
a School, Principal, 69(3), 1990.
19 E. Mueller, The Oak Park Plan: The Fourth R, paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Association
of School Admini- strators, Dallas, 1985.
20 Wexler et al. Californias Class Size Reduction.
21 Joan McRobbie (ed.), WestEd Class Size Reduction Updates (electronic publications), December 1996 through AprilMay 1998.
22 H. Pepper Sturm, Nevadas Class-Size Reduction Program, Carson City, NV: Nevada Legislative Counsel Bureau, 1997.
23 Karen Evans-Stout, Nancy Fleming, Bob L. Johnson, Jr., Edna Ehleringer,
Joyce M. Gray, Randall Merrill, Margery Parket, Robyn Roberts,
and Tracy Stewart, The Use of Class Size Reduction Funds in Five Wasatch Front Districts
(A Study for the Utah Education Consortium), Salt Lake City, 1997.
24 Richard J. Murnane and Frank Levy, "Evidence from Fifteen Schools
in Austin, Texas," in Does Money Matter, Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 1996.
25 Evans-Stout et al., The Use of Class Size Reduction Funds in Five Wasatch County Districts.
26 Joan McRobbie, "Californias Class Size Reduction: A One-Year
Status Check," Thrust for Educational Leadership, Association of California School Administrators, September 1997.
27 Letter from H. Pepper Sturm, April 20, 1998.
Joan McRobbie is California Liaison at WestEd where she analyzes education issues, especially as they evolve in California. jmcrobb@WestEd.org;
Jeremy D. Finn is a Visiting Scholar at LSS, Temple University,
in the Center for Research in Human Development and Education.
His regular position is Professor of Education at the State University
of New York at Buffalo. He was external evaluator to Project STAR
throughout its duration. email@example.com; 716-645-2482.
Patrick Harman, an evaluation specialist with SERVE, focuses on
evaluating school reform efforts. His current area of interest
is developing appropriate methodologies for investigating educational
initiatives. firstname.lastname@example.org; 800-755-3277.
The authors gratefully acknowledge the contributions of Charles
M. Achilles, Professor, Eastern Michigan University; H. Pepper
Sturm, Chief Principal Research Analyst, Nevada Legislative Counsel
Bureau; and Laurie Chivers, Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction,
WestEd, LSS and SERVE are part of a network of 10 Regional Education
Laboratories that work to ensure that those involved in education
improvement at the local, state, and regional levels have access
to the best available information from research and practice.
This publication is funded in part by the U.S. Department of Education,
Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI). Its contents
do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Department
To learn more, contact:
730 Harrison St.
San Francisco, CA 94107-1242
Laboratory for Student Success
Temple University/Center for Research in Human Development and
933 Ritter Annex
13th St and Cecil B. Moore Avenue Philadelphia, PA 19122
SouthEastern Regional Vision for Education (SERVE)
P.O. Box 5367
Greensboro, NC 27435