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Class Size Reduction and Misappropriated Funds
Subj:      Re: [Mpls] class size background
Date:     11/13/2001 10:57:17 PM Central Standard Time

In a message dated 11/12/2001 11:18:32 PM Central Standard Time, writes:

>  ...Project STAR (Student/Teacher Achievement Ratio) looked at a lot of
>  Tennessee students (various aspects looked at anywhere from 7,000 to
>  11,600) in kindergarten through third grade between 1985 and 1989  in
>  about 75  schools in 42 school systems. It compared student achievement
>  in:
>  --small classes (13 to 17)
>  --regular-size classes (22 to 25)
>  --regular-size classes with teachers aides.
>  The smaller classes seemed to show significant benefits over either of
>  the other models, and it led to class size reduction strategies in at
>  least 25 states. Some notes on the study:
>  -- Children who gained most were minority students in inner-city
>  schools. It showed in lots of areas, from test scores to retention to
>  graduation to taking advanced courses to going on to college.

Project STAR researchers concluded that adding a teacher's aid to a regular
size classroom doesn't affect test scores. Cutting class size does affect
test scores.  Perhaps the district's class size reduction program didn't
improve test scores in most of the high poverty schools because it was
abandoned in most of those schools.  

On the other hand, the district had at least a couple of model, high poverty
schools, including North Star elementary, which, a few years ago, posted
scores on academic achievement tests above the district average.  North Star
reportedly reduced its average K-3 class size to below the districtwide goal
of 19.  Reports to the board suggested that most of the North Star teachers
were likely to stay put for a while.

Aside from the direct benefits of small class sizes, there appear to be
indirect benefits, such as a lower rate of teacher turnover, which reduces the
concentration of inexperienced teachers over time.

>  -- Later analysis seemed to indicate that students did better in math
>  classes taught by teachers of their same race.

Did the researchers offer any explanation for why students seemed to do
better in math classes taught by teachers of the same race?  Who did this
later analysis? Who funded it?  Where can one locate it?  Why is it
significant? What are the policy implications?

>  -- Researchers are adamant in saying that you cannot generalize to sizes
>  above 17 (and folks doing a similar study in Wisconsin have argued that
>  class size reductions that leave classes larger than 15 are unlikely to
>  show the same gains.) Minneapolis never promised class sizes smaller
>  than 19.

It is true that one cannot expect to replicate the results of a study if one
does not replicate the conditions under which it was conducted.  However, the
district claims that high poverty schools have the option of replicating
those conditions.

The district achieved an average of 19.5 students per K-3 classroom in the
1994-1995 school year.  It was a little closer to 19 by 1999.  However, the
average class size for high poverty schools increased during the period from

High-poverty schools are getting compensatory money, and many high poverty
schools are using that money to buy down class sizes, according to Catherine
Shreves, who cites Lincoln Elementary School as an example of a high poverty
school that uses compensatory money to buy down class sizes and is "beating
the odds" ([Mpls] Re: K-12 Schools; 31 October 2001).  

>  -- There is disagreement whether gains can be sustained if the time in
>  smaller classes is less than 3 years...which makes it a questionable
>  strategy unless coupled with efforts to keep students in the same school
>  system for 3 years....the argument for stability.

Any strategy to boost student achievement employed by the district
will be of dubious value to students who are not continuously enrolled in the
district.  The stability argument can be used against any and all strategies
the district might employ.

I'm sure that there are highly mobile students in the state of Tennessee,
including some who were followed in the Project STAR study.  The presence of
mobile students didn't prevent students who were continuously enrolled in
small class rooms from reaping the benefits of small class sizes.   

>  -- Minneapolis teachers think they are more effective teaching smaller
>  classes, and this is no small thing, regardless of research findings in
> Tennessee.
>  I remain unclear about what Mr. Mann intended when he wrote that there
>  was a misappropriation of funds for class size.
>  He quotes hallowed sources to the effect that the term
>  “misappropriation” may or may not connote something illegal. OK. But
>  since at least some readers will suspect the allegation has legal
>  implications, it might serve discussion well to use different language
>  when it is a question policy as opposed to suggestions of outright
>  illegal behavior.  
>  It would help if Mr. Mann stated clearly which of the definitions is his
> using.
>  Small class size is a good idea, but it is far from a certain bet and is
>  only one of several possible strategies to help students. Several
>  alternatives have been offered on this list. I would not suggest that
>  schools should abandon all other strategies in the name of class size. I
>  would not call pursuing those other strategies thoughtfully to be a
>  misappropriation of funds, regardless of the definition.
>  Dennis Schapiro
>  Linden Hills
>  School board member-elect

In order to reduce class sizes, one not only pays more for teachers salaries,
one also has to pay for more classrooms.  What did the board do with the
money it had for more class rooms?  If some of the money needed to carry
out the class size reduction program was used for other purposes, that money
was "misappropriated."   

The alternatives to class size reduction used in most of the high
poverty schools are clearly less effective as a means to improve student
performance.  By sticking with policies that do not improve student
achievement, and rejecting policies that do, the board is certainly acting in
an irresponsible and unethical manner. The board is carrying out policies
that benefit one class of students at the expense of another. If there isn't
a law on the books against that, there ought to be.  
-Doug Mann, King Field

Doug Mann for School Board web site:
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