Interestingly enough, following The Seattle Times editorial recommending that Washington state voters vote ‘no’ on Initiative 1351, education reporter, John Higgins, has written a fairly balanced review of some selected research studies on class size and its effects on student achievement. Although it is no where near a comprehensive review of the large body of research on the subject, you can find that here, it is an interesting article considering The Times’ editorial, the headline of the Higgins piece and the contents found wherein.
First off, The Times’ case against I-1351 was based on the cost of lowering class size versus its efficacy as education policy, but they also made it a union issue with this last concluding sentence, “The deciding factor should be what’s right for kids, not for the union.” They are essentially asserting that this union-backed initiative is all about more jobs for Washington Education Association members, and nothing more. Their case is stronger when talking about the estimated cost of adhering to the provision of I-1351, but as I said in my previous piece on I-1351, parents and teachers have mandated smaller classes before and been ignored by the legislature. The compelling argument here is that passing I-1351 would act as one more point of pressure on the legislature to take action on McCleary and make K-12 public education the ‘paramount’ funding priority of the state once again.
Higgins’ article carries the headline, “Does class size matter? Research reveals surprises.” Initially, this sounds like an article which is going to reinforce The Times’ editorial on I-1351, that it’s not worth the cost. However, the article is really best described by the subheading, “The most obvious reason for why small classes sizes work – that teachers give better, more-tailored instruction – probably isn’t the reason why achievement goes up, studies have found.” The point being that nothing in the article, nor in the majority of the research, refutes the power of smaller class sizes in K-3 classrooms and in high-poverty schools in particular, and in K-12 classrooms in general. As the article explains, the debate around the effects of small class sizes on student achievement centers around “why smaller class size works, how it works and who benefits most.” Note that there is no debate about whether or not students do benefit!
Legislators, editorial boards, journalists and voters can continue to dig into the research around class size all they want, in the mean time our schools will continue to be overcrowded, underfunded and ineffective at increasing student achievement for those who need it most in Washington state. Let the debate and the research go on, by all means, but in the mean time vote for I-1351.