Thursday, September 07, 2006

California class size reduction. Great expenditure with minimal to no improvement in outcomes.

The following piece appears on the Education Intelligence Agency website.

California Redoubles Its Efforts. George Santayana once famously wrote: "Fanaticism consists in redoubling your efforts when you have forgotten your aim."

Fix your gaze upon this story from the Sacramento Bee, concerning the $2.9 billion deal to reduce class sizes in additional grades at California's 500 lowest performing schools. The legislature passed a law in 1996 lowering K-3 class sizes to a maximum of 20. While the article goes further than most by suggesting "the jury's still out" on across-the-board class size reduction, it seems 10 years of data should be sufficient to judge whether the tens of billions of dollars Californians have dropped into the well are making our wishes come true.

In 1998, before 4th-graders had the benefit of smaller classes, California's 4th-graders ranked ahead of only those in Hawaii and Louisiana in reading (NAEP test). The benchmark for math is 1996, where California's 4th-graders finished ahead of those in Mississippi and tied with those in Louisiana.

In 2005, California's 4th-graders beat out Mississippi in reading. Hawaii and Louisiana passed us. The brightest picture is 4th-grade math. California finished ahead of Alabama, Mississippi and New Mexico, and tied with Louisiana and Nevada.

What's worse is that we have had class size reduction for so long, we can now compare the NAEP scores of 8th-graders under the old class sizes with 8th-graders who experienced four years of 20-student classes. They are virtually indistinguishable.

Everyone loves class size reduction. Parents love it. Politicians love it. Teachers love it. And unions especially love it (the new bill will mean up to 3,000 new CTA members). We all love ice cream, too. But we shouldn't pretend it's the best use of our money.

To view more stories on the Education Intelligence Agency website click here.

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