Class size reduction not as beneficial as hoped

By Jessica Brice The Associated Press
Wednesday June 26, 2002

Urban children benefited more than rural students 


SACRAMENTO — California’s $1 billion-a-year experiment with class size reduction isn’t producing the monumental benefits lawmakers had hoped for, according to a study released Tuesday. 

The Public Policy Institute of California found that while many schools across the state boosted test scores, other schools appeared to benefit little, if at all, from the class size reduction law that passed in 1996. 

Overall, schools that reduced their average class size by 10 students saw the number of third-graders with test scores above the national median jump by only 3 to 4 percent, according to the report released by the institute, a San Francisco-based think-tank. 

“Originally, I was expecting a bigger effect,” said Christopher Jepsen, co-author of the study. “But when I thought of all the new teachers that had to be hired, it’s not that surprising.” 

Students in urban schools benefited more from the reduction than students in rural schools. Urban schools saw an improvement of about 5 percent for math and 4 percent for reading. Rural schools, on the other hand, had math and reading scores inch up only 2.5 and 1 percent, respectively. 

Schools with low-income students benefited the most. In Fresno, Long Beach, Oakland, San Diego and San Francisco, the poorest schools saw test scores improve by about 14 percent in math and 9 percent in reading. 

However, Los Angeles Unified School District’s schools did not fare well with class size reduction, with some of its poorest schools seeing dramatic declines in test scores. Overall, Los Angeles third-graders improved scores by about 2 percent. 

Minority and white students fared the same across the state, except in Los Angeles, where math scores at schools with predominantly black student populations dropped 15 percent. 

Although the numbers seem surprising, the weak improvements can be attributed to the statewide teaching shortage, caused in part by the class size reduction law, Jepsen said. 

Following the implementation of the law, thousands of new teaching positions were created, which pushed experienced teachers into more affluent areas and rookie teachers with emergency credentials into low-income districts. 

Esther Wong, an assistant superintendent in the Los Angeles Unified School District, said the district has always had a hard time finding and retaining qualified teachers. 

The district employs about 33,000 teachers and has up to 60,000 students in each grade level. 

“We’ve had some minor gains ... but we can’t attribute those gains to be solely the result of class size reduction,” Wong said. Despite the lower improvements, she said the numbers were still encouraging.