September 19, 1997
Questions asked in this forum:
Do other influences have a greater impact on learning than class size? Are teachers being taught to present their lesson plans with ruthless efficiency? How might technology be used to help alleviate high student-teacher ratios? Are there any good studies on small classes?
August 21, 1997:
Paul Solman talks with Education Secretary Richard Riley and school officials from around the country.
August 12, 1997:
Chicago Public Schools are looking into mandatory summer school to increase test scores.
February 11, 1997:
President Clinton announces plans to create national standards to measure the country's educational system.
January 16, 1997:
A report shows that despite a 15-year effort to improve public schools, performance still lags.
Browse the Online NewsHour's coverage of education.
A question from James Rosenfeld of Hollywood, FL:
As the product of a private school with class sizes never more than 15, it is difficult for me to believe that class size is not absolutely critical for certain subjects, such as English. Are there any good studies on classes this small, where can they be found and what do they suggest?
Sonia Hernandez, Deputy Superintendent for the Curriculum and Instructional Leadership Branch of California State's Department of Education responds:
One study frequently cited is the Rand study, recently released, which discusses the impact of Class Size Reduction in Texas. Another is a study done on CSR in Tennessee: STUDENT-TEACHER RATION STUDY (PROJECT STAR) by Word, Achilles, Bain and Folger; Tennessee States Department of Education, 1989.
A review of the literature on this topic was done under William Bennett while he was Secretary of Education in the Reagan administration. The review looked at CSR over the last 30 years and its net effect. Essentially, the review is where we get the notion that 15 to 1 is the optimum size for elementary and middle grades. These are three of the most obvious sources or studies – but by and large there has not been enough analysis where large-scale CSR efforts have been undertaken.
Another resource: CLASS SIZE REDUCTION: A RELSTED CLUSTER ANALYSIS FOR DECISION-MAKING by Robinson and Wittebols. Reston, Virginia: Educational Research Service, 1990.
Michael Kirst, Stanford University professor and director of Policy Analysis for California Education responds:
The best study of impact of class sizes of 15 is Frederick Mosteller's, "Sustained Inquiry in Education," in Harvard Education Review, Vol. 66, No. 4, Winter 1996, pp. 797-828.
Your point on private schools is a good one. If class size doesn't matter, why do the richest, best educated people send their children to schools with small classes.