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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Smaller classes lead to big savings in health care -- and almost two more years of life

This month's American Journal of Public Health contains an article showing that smaller classes could be the best investment society can make -- not just in terms of improving education, but also in terms of health.

Project Star, the premier experimental study in the history of educational research, revealed that students who spent several years in smaller classes in the early grades had higher test scores, better grades, were less likely to be held back and graduated from high school at a much higher rates. Now, Peter Muennig of the Columbia University School of Public Health and Stephen Woolf of Virginia Commonwealth University use this data to estimate the gain in earnings, lower welfare payments, and reduced rates of crime and mortality for these students when they reach adulthood. They project that each low-income child who attended smaller classes is likely to benefit from almost two more years of life; and society would gain almost $200,000 in reduced medical costs and additional tax revenue.

According to Dr. Sydney Spiesel writing in Slate magazine, the findings of these researchers

"suggest that investment in reducing elementary school classes is better, in cost-benefit terms, than money spent on antibiotics, or hospital buildings, or even vaccines (long thought to be one of the most cost-effective interventions for health care). Perhaps I would do better for my patients if I gave up pediatrics and became a member of my local school board."

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