Report: California's class-size reduction effort led to academic gains
- California’s large-scale and costly class-size reduction initiative — launched in the mid-1990s under Govenor Pete Wilson — is often blamed for the high numbers of teachers in the state who were hired with “emergency-type credentials,” such as provisional permits or waivers, as the report covered in Education Dive today explains.
- But a new paper by researchers at the National Bureau of Economic Research finds that the policy, implemented in the early grades and inspired by Project STAR in Tennessee, also led to some indirect positive effects on the state’s education system.
- Smaller classes drew students from private schools, and in fact, families were eager enough to get their children in schools that opted into the program that they were willing to move to higher-priced neighborhoods, the researchers write. As a result, test scores improved. The authors conclude that reforms that “boost public school quality are likely to change the mix of students across public and private systems, with consequences for education production.”
Smaller class sizes are always popular with parents, but the lessons from this paper extend beyond reducing class sizes. When public schools offer the educational experiences that middle class parents want for their children, they will often reject private schools.
Another example of such a policy is preschool. For years, parents of all socioeconomic levels in Georgia have been camping out overnight in order to sign their children up for the state’s free pre-K program. And in Cincinnati, when a high-poverty school added a Montessori early-childhood program, families began to relocate to the community and the school is now among the top performing in the city.
The challenge for administrators is retaining those families once their children are beyond the grade levels targeted by the popular programs or policies, a task that is becoming even more difficult with increasing school choice options for parents.
- National Bureau of Economic Research Education Reform in Genera Equilibrium: Evidence from California's Class Size Reduction
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