Class Size Reduction vs. “Race to the Top” and
corporate-style reforms
What does the research say, who supports, and
who benefits
Presentation to SOS March
July 29, 2011
Leonie Haimson, Class Size Matters
Robin Hiller, Voices for Education
Rigorous research base for
Class Size Reduction
• Randomized experiments – the gold standard of research-- shows
smaller classes in the lower grades lead to significant gains in
achievement, higher graduation rates, more student engagement
and lower disciplinary rates.
• Reducing class size is one of four K-12 reforms backed by “rigorous
evidence,” acc. to Institute of Education Sciences, research arm of
US Dept. of Education.*
• There are also scores of non-experimental studies showing smaller
classes in middle and upper grades are correlated with better
student outcomes.
* Other three K-12 evidence-based reforms, acc. to IES, are one-on-one
tutoring by qualified tutors for at-risk readers in grades 1-3, Life-Skills
training for junior high students, and instruction for early readers in
phonemic awareness and phonics.
Research does not support Race to the
Top (RTTT) and corporate-style
• What are their key elements?
• Increased competition and privatization through charter
school expansion and online learning.
• Use of high-stakes accountability systems, esp.
standardized exams to judge teachers and schools.
Yet there is no research base or evidence for any of
these reforms.
What evidence is shown about
corporate-style ed reforms?
• Nat. Acad. of Sciences has issued two reports vs. RTTT
and high stakes accountability, saying no evidence that
high stakes testing or teacher evaluations linked to test
scores will improve schools and may have damaging
• Most authoritative analysis of charter schools (CREDO)
shows that after controlling for student background, only
17% of charters did better than similar public schools,
37% did worse, and in 46% of cases, there was no
statistical difference.
What about online learning?
• Largest study of virtual education done for US
Department of Education concluded that there is a “lack
of scientific evidence of the effectiveness” of online
classes” in grades K-12.
• Only 30% of online schools met Adequate Yearly
Progress (AYP) as compared to 54.9% of regular "bricks
and mortar” schools.
• The Pentagon currently refuses to accept graduates
from online high schools into the military, since the
academic standards are so low.
Experience of other countries
• Finland, which has made greatest gains on
international comparisons like the PISA, turned
around school system in 1970’s when reduced
class size.
• Finland has no high-stakes standardized testing
until end of HS (for college entrance reasons).
• Only uses standardized exams on small
samples of students for diagnostic purposes.
Support by stakeholder groups
• Class size reduction has strongest support of
any education reform in polls of stakeholder
groups, incl. parents and teachers.
• Teachers say (at over 90%) that it is the best
way to improve their effectiveness, over more
training, increasing salaries, merit pay or any
other strategy
Vs. supporters of RTTT and other
corporate-style reforms
• Corporate reforms like increased class sizes,
school closings, high-stakes testing and teacher
merit pay tied to test scores are being
aggressively promoted by “Billionaire Boys Club”
and hedge fund operators.
• According to PDK/Gallup poll, these policies
have very little public support.
Positive vs. negative effects on
teaching force
• Smaller classes tend to decrease teacher
attrition rates, esp. in high needs areas,
over time leading to a more experienced,
effective teaching force.
• Teacher evaluations or merit pay tied to
unreliable test scores causes good
teachers to become demoralized and/or
lose their jobs.
Effects on learning
• Smaller classes allow reflection, feedback from teachers
and peers, spark inventiveness and deeper learning
through questioning, discussion and debate.
• High stakes testing leads to rote learning, cheating
and/or excessive test prep, narrowing of curriculum,
causing students to lose interest and undermining
creative thinking and inventive thought.
• Since 1990, for first time, research shows American
creativity is declining, most seriously among children in
K-6th grades.
Who do these reforms benefit or
hurt the most?
Students who receive greatest benefits from smaller classes are those who
need them the most: low-income and/or minority students. This is why it is
one of few reforms proven to significantly narrow the achievement gap.
Competition, privatization and high stakes testing hurts high need students
as charter schools tend to exclude or push out struggling students.
Online learning can widen achievement gap as students who are focused
and self-motivated and have access to computers at home are more likely
to succeed.
High stakes testing labels schools and teachers as failing where there is
highest concentration of need, unfairly causing these schools to be closed
or their teachers to be fired, leading to more disruption and dropout rates to