Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Increasing teacher productivity, the DFL way 

As I read the DFL plan to give more money to schools with smaller class sizes, I was reminded of some humorous graffiti put up in the 1970s in Italy that was to make fun of Communist slogans used in the many political campaigns there. Examples included BOSSES' POWER", "MORE WORK, LESS PAY," and "ALL POWER TO THE DROMEDARIAT."

A sense of humor helps make sense of this proposal.
Growing class sizes are one of the top problems plaguing public schools in the eyes of many educators and parents. Under the proposal, schools that keep their class sizes under specified levels would get anywhere from $100 to $500 per student for each qualifying classroom.
So first you will reduce the number of students taught, and then they will give you more money? The problem isn't too many students. It's too little productivity.
I have a study in which I examined every change in class size at every elementary school in Connecticut over a 20-year period. In schools, class size varies from year to year because enrollment varies. Therefore, with 20 years and 800-some schools, there is a tremendous amount of variation in class size to examine.

I found there was no effect of class size on achievement at all, even when children were in small classes for all six years of elementary school.

There really is only one study in which a class-size reduction improved student achievement: the Tennessee STAR experiment. But the effect on achievement was tiny--a 10 percent reduction in class size raised achievement by two one-hundredths of a standard deviation in achievement test scores.

More importantly, in the Tennessee STAR experiment, everyone involved knew that if the class-size reduction didn't affect achievement, the experimental classes would return to their normal size and a general class-size reduction would not be funded by the legislature. In other words, principals and teachers had strong incentives to make the reduction work. Unfortunately, class-size reductions are never accompanied by such incentives when they are enacted as a policy.
The difference between STAR and the DFL proposal is that there is no link between lowering class sizes and assessed achievement. You just get the money. Which is just as well, based on the evidence.

But hey, LESS WORK, MORE PAY! Sure to appear on a t-shirt near you soon.

(h/t: Residual Forces.)

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