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NEPC Review: What Research Says and What It Means for State Policy (May 2011)

Class Size: What Research Says and What It Means for State Policy argues that increasing average class size by one student will save about 2% of total education spending with negligible impact on academic achievement. It justifies this conclusion on the basis that Class-Size Reduction (CSR) is not particularly effective and is not as cost-effective as other reforms. However, this conclusion is based on a misleading review of the CSR research literature. The report puts too much emphasis on studies that are of poor quality or that do not focus on settings that are particularly relevant to the debate on class-size policy in the United States. It argues that class-size reduction is less cost-effective than other reform policies, but it bases this contention on an incomplete accounting of the benefits of smaller classes and an uncritical, unexamined list of alternative policies. The report’s estimates of the potential cost savings are flawed as, in reality, schools cannot structurally reduce class size by only one student. Well-documented and long-term non-academic gains from CSR are not addressed. Likewise, the recommendation for releasing the 'least effective' teachers assumes a valid way of making such determinations is available.

Document Reviewed:

What Research Says and What It Means for State Policy

Grover J. Whitehurst and Matthew M. Chingos
Brookings Institution