Monday, June 18, 2012

Early Years Class-Size Most Important

A new report from the Southern Regional Education Board says that even when budgets are tight, states should protect smaller classes in the early grades and study the effects of larger classes on student achievement.

Research shows that students perform better in small classrooms, especially in kindergarten through third grade, according to Smart Class-Size Policies for Lean Times. Yet shrinking class sizes is one of the most expensive education initiatives for states: Reducing average class size by even one student could cost the nation more than $10 billion per year. In Florida, a statewide class-size reduction policy cost nearly $22 billion over a nine-year period.

In the 1980s, SREB states, led by Tennessee and Texas, spearheaded policies to limit the number of students in public K-12 classrooms. The K-12 student-teacher ratio dropped over two decades by nearly three students in SREB states and by almost two students nationally.

In recent years, some states have altered their class-size policies as they weighed their cost effectiveness during lean times. About a third of all states — including 10 SREB states — permit waivers to provide flexibility. Florida adjusted its list of core courses, and Texas sought to move from caps to averages.

The SREB policy brief recommends that if states must consider enlarging class sizes to save money, they should:

- Consider the state’s record of student performance along with their current fiscal condition.
- Base change on research about impact on student achievement and teacher effectiveness.
- Require schools to monitor individual student achievement at any grade level where they enlarge classes.
- Factor in effectiveness of classroom teachers and how they assess it.
- Maintain smaller classes pre-K through third grade and for groups of students at risk of academic failure.
- Keep the public informed of any changes.

Smart Class-Size Policies for Lean Times reviews research on the impact of class size on student performance, details how states measure class size, and relates recent changes to class-size policy in SREB states. It also includes a state-by-state table, by grade level, of AdvancED class-size cap recommendations alongside current averages or state-level caps in SREB states.

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