Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Class size debate heats up: Is it working? Is it worth it?

The opening salvo in Florida's latest battle over smaller class sizes was launched from afar this week.

A Harvard think tank concludes in a study being released today that despite a multibillion-dollar price tag, the 2002 state constitutional amendment to reduce class sizes has had little impact on student test scores.

But it'll hardly be the last word.

As Florida voters gear up for another amendment on class size, this one to make the existing amendment more flexible, the debate is heating up over two complicated questions.

Is it working?

Is it worth it?

"Cost and performance," said Darryl Paulson, a retired political science professor from the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. "The 10,000-pound gorilla in the room is going to be cost factors, and are voters willing to pony up all the additional money if they're not convinced that there's tangible benefits."

The class-size amendment mandates that all classes in core academic subjects be reduced to no more than 18 students in grades K-3, 22 students in 4-8, and 25 students in 9-12.

After spending $15.8 billion, the state has shrunk class sizes enough to meet the caps as a schoolwide average. But this fall, the caps must be met in every classroom.

The proposed amendment, put on the ballot by a Republican-led Legislature, would freeze the amendment at the school level. It would also prohibit classrooms from being more than three students over current limits in pre-kindergarten through third grade, or more than five students over in other grades.

The potential savings are unclear. But it's likely to be tens of millions of dollars each year — and possibly more.

The new study is the first to look at the effects of class-size reduction in Florida.

Using data from the Florida Department of Education, Harvard research fellow Matt Chingos looked at the impact of smaller class sizes on grades 4-8 through 2007. His conclusion: The amount Florida spent on reducing class sizes had no greater or lesser effect on academic performance than allowing schools to spend similar pots of money as they see fit.

USF education professor Sherman Dorn, who reviewed the paper at the St. Petersburg Times' request, said it was a clever attempt to tease out the effects of class-size reduction from other factors affecting student achievement. But it's not the slam dunk some class-size amendment critics may hope it is.

"People on both sides of the policy issue can probably cherry-pick information out of here," he said.

Florida students have made some of the biggest gains in the country over the past decade, according to national reading and math scores. But it's tough trying to determine how much credit should go to smaller classes vs. other big changes, such as school grades and an intense focus on reading in early grades.

In coming months, both sides will give it their best shots.

Florida Education Commissioner Eric J. Smith, who supports the proposed amendment, has not seen the study. But he noted its findings seem to jibe with reams of research that conclude modest reductions in class size yield, at best, modest gains.

"The research has been consistent in that respect," he said.

Damien Filer, former spokesman for Florida's Coalition to Reduce Class Size, the group that led the 2002 effort, said parents will make up their minds regardless of what dueling studies say.

"Is it worth some investment for their child to be in a class where they can get adequate attention from their teachers?" Filer asked. "They'll say yes every time."

Ron Matus can be reached at matus@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8873. Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4614.

Class size debate heats up: Is it working? Is it worth it? 05/13/10 [Last modified: Thursday, May 13, 2010 10:43pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. America's opioid problem is so bad it's cutting into U.S. life expectancy

    Public Safety

    Prosecutors in New York announced this week that an August drug raid yielded 140 pounds of fentanyl, the most in the city's history and enough to kill 32 million people, they told New York 4.

    The average American life expectancy grew overall from 2000 to 2015, but that the astounding rise in opioid-related deaths shaved 2.5 months off this improvement, according to a study. [Associated Press]
  2. After Hurricane Irma, Tampa Bay officers headed south to help out

    Public Safety

    When Hurricane Irma was forecast to pummel the Tampa Bay region, Tampa police Cpl. Whitney McCormick was ready for the worst — to lose her home and all of her possessions.

    Tampa International Airport Police Department Sgt. Eric Diaz (left) stands next to Tampa Police Department Cpl. Whitney McCormick at the Collier County Command Post in the days after Hurricane Irma. More than 100 local law enforcement officers traveled from Tampa Bay to help out the county. (Courtesy of Whitney McCormick)
  3. Forecast: Sunny skies, mainly dry conditions continue across Tampa Bay

    Weather

    For Tampa Bay residents, Wednesday is expected to bring lots of sunshine, lower humidity and little to no storm chances.

    Tampa Bay's 7 day forecast. [WTSP]
  4. Florida education news: Irma makeup days, HB 7069, charter schools and more

    Blogs

    MAKEUP DAYS: Florida education commissioner Pam Stewart waives two of the required 180 days of instruction to help districts complete the …

    Education Commissioner Pam Stewart
  5. Rays morning after: At least Archer looked good

    Blogs