September 18, 2003


The Case for Smaller Schools: The Gates Foundation's gift of $51.2 million will give a significant boost to the small-schools movement. (NY Times, 9/18/03)

National data on small schools shows that they tend to be quieter and safer, with fewer dropouts and higher graduation rates. This trend held true last year in poor areas of the Bronx, where ordinary high schools, some with enrollments of 3,000 or more, had lower success rates on state exams -- and drastically higher dropout rates -- than the New Visions schools, which have enrollments ranging from roughly 75 to 150 students.

The Gates grant has given new momentum to this promising movement.

Canada finishes well ahead of U.S. as OECD tests teenage students (Sarah Schmidt, September 16, 2003, CanWest News Service)
Canadian teenagers scored in the top five on international tests in reading, math and science, even though their class sizes are the largest in the Western world.

In fact, it's not too much to say that the evidence suggests the exact opposite of what the Times asserts: NYC schools could be improved by taking away money and increasing classroom size.

MORE (via Mike Daley):
Class size overrated, research suggests (Heather Sokoloff, 9/18/03, National Post)

Newer international studies by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) have added to the evidence that class size is less important than other factors when it comes to learning. Reducing class size from 28 to 20 students was found to have a minimal impact on student achievement.

"I know it seems counter-intuitive," said Douglas Willms, director of the University of New Brunswick's Canadian Research Institute for Social Policy, who led the OECD project.

"Class size makes a small difference, but doesn't have a substantial effect. There are other kinds of interventions that can have much more powerful effects."

Fifteen years ago, Dr. Willms thought differently. But after analyzing the effects of reducing class size in more than a dozen countries in a massive project for OECD, he now says other measures have a more significant impact. These include improving relations between teachers and students, hiring literacy specialists, intervening earlier than Grade 2 when a child is having trouble learning to read, teaching educators better classroom management, encouraging parents to read to their children in the evenings, and offering early childhood education programs.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 18, 2003 12:08 PM

They should extrapolate this all the way and just give parents the money to home-school their kids.

Posted by: some random person at September 18, 2003 12:25 PM

You're confusing different concepts. There is little to no empirical support for the concept that smaller class sizes improve student achievment. In fact, studies suggest the opposite.

However, there is interesting data that smaller schools - not smaller classes - can improve student acheivement. The theory being that student and faculty feel less alienated and more connected when the school is smaller (no more than 600 students.

I blogged about the studies long ago at the this link.

However, there is

Posted by: "Edward" at September 18, 2003 1:10 PM

Edward's last paragraph reflects my personal experience in the public school system, many years ago. When I moved from a small local school to a regional school it was demoralizing.

Posted by: genecis at September 18, 2003 1:44 PM

Some consideration might be given to the thought that every time class sizes are reduced, new teachers are hired and administrators ability to spend time discerning the good ones from the bad ones is reduced. In a small school the principal has a much better grasp of which teachers are duds and which aren't. A good teacher can handle 35 kids, a bad teacher will fail with five.

Posted by: RDB at September 18, 2003 3:01 PM

As literacy is THE basic foundation for learning, I am completely at a loss to understand why ANY child is allowed to study anything else, until they're experts.

This fundamental truth is why I don't consider the education establishment, as a whole, including teachers, to be professionals.
As it stands now, I am not being at all humorous when I say that replacing every teacher with a plumber wouldn't make much difference.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at September 19, 2003 6:08 AM