Smaller classes help close achievement gap

The Associated Press
Wednesday March 07, 2001

WASHINGTON — Reducing class sizes in early grades improves overall performance and narrows the achievement gap between black and white students, according to a study released Tuesday. 

The study, prepared by Princeton University economist Alan Krueger, tracked the performance of 11,600 elementary students at 79 schools in a Tennessee pilot program known as Project STAR. 

Krueger’s study, “Would Smaller Classes Help the Black White Achievement Gap?” compared those students who were randomly assigned to smaller classes with between 13 and 17 pupils to those in regular classes with between 22 and 25. It covered students through third grade, beginning with students entering kindergarten in 1985. 

Krueger said his report showed that smaller class size has a greater impact on black students than white students, who traditionally perform better on standardized tests than their black counterparts. 

For black students in smaller classes, that gap narrowed 38 percent and remained 15 percent smaller after the students moved back to a larger class. 

Black students in smaller classes also were more likely than their counterparts in larger classes to take ACT or SAT tests, increasing from 31.6 percent to 41.3 percent. That was a steeper increase than among white students where the test taking rose from 44.7 percent to 46.4 percent 

The report also noted that the teen birth rates for those white female students assigned to smaller class sizes was one-third less than for those in larger classes. The change for black females students was not statistically significant but for black males students the rate of teen fatherhood dropped by 40 percent. 

Sens. Patty Murray, D-WA, and Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., introduced Krueger’s report Tuesday at a news conference on Capitol Hill. Murray will offer an amendment during that hearing to include $2.4 billion in fiscal year 2002 to reduce class size to a maximum of 18 students for grades one through three.