The Class Size Reduction program came into being during the last term of President Clinton. With the passage of No Child Left Behind the Class Size Reduction (CSR) program was eliminated and folded into what was the old ESEA Title II Dwight Eisenhower Math and Science program. The program kept the same purposes of both earlier programs and added new features that did not exist in either program. The new program is Title II, Part A, Improving Teacher Quality State Grants.
One of the features of the new program is that no funds can be spent unless the activity that is being funded has scientific evidence that it will work. While much has been written about class size reduction, there is little that fits the NCLB definition of "scientifically based research". Most of the early literature on CSR indicates that it does not have an impact on student achievement unless the size of the class is somewhere between 8 and 12 students, depending on the study cited. However, there are two new studies, the Tennessee STAR study and Wisconsin SAGE program, which do fit the NCLB definition of scientific research and make some definitive statements about CSR. Both programs are true programs, meaning that ALL targeted classrooms (K-3) are reduced in size in the schools that receive funds for the program, not just one class here and another class there. The Tennessee program reduced class size to 17 or below, the Wisconsin program reduced them to 15 or below. Both programs also did not rely on just reducing the class size in order to impact student achievement. Teachers were provided professional development in effective instructional strategies; students were provided extended day and other support programs. Both programs showed increased student achievement.
The two studies above and other less rigorous studies have provided guidance about how to spend funds for CSR. There are four major findings from the research:
In addition to the four pieces of research-based guidance mentioned above, there are other considerations that come from the Title II legislation itself:
There is an additional consideration when considering how much to spend on CSR versus professional development. Professional development is referred to as a high-yield strategy to improve student achievement, versus CSR, which is a low-yield strategy to improve student achievement. While both will yield greater student achievement, one yields greater results for the dollar spent. For example, one CSR teacher costs approximately $50,000 for one year to have an impact on 17 students. The impact on those 17 students ends at the end of the year. That same $50,000 will pay for a one-week summer reading or math academy for 16 teachers, which will impact 1320 students, with approximately $5,000 left over to provide follow up sessions or professional development materials for the teachers. Additionally, because the professional development, if done well and implemented, will change what the teacher does in the classroom from that point forward, the impact does not end at the end of the year. The teachers who receive the professional development will be able to impact an additional group of 1320 students for each year that they continue to work.
While there is little research which compares the effectiveness of CSR with professional development there is one newer piece of research that equates professional development as 10 times more effective than CSR in terms of student learning and achievement. "The impact of moving up one standard deviation in teacher quality raises mathematics test scores by roughly ten times as much as the very expensive policy of reducing average class size by one standard deviation." pp 16 Hanushek & Rivkin (2002)
For the reasons above, no more than 50% of a county's Title II funds are spent on CSR teachers. Additionally, counties will be required to meet at least the first three points from the research above.
Additionally, counties will need to follow the NCLB Title II requirement to target their CSR teacher "programs" at SCHOOLS or ONE school that either has the largest average class size, is identified for improvement, or has the lowest percentage of classes taught by highly qualified teachers in addition to the three conclusions from research mentioned above unless there are circumstances which would limit the ability to target these funds (e.g. limited number of classrooms available, no schools identified for improvement, class size already below the average of 17 in an identified school, etc.)