President Biden’s Covid relief program includes $60 billion to prevent teacher layoffs and close budget gaps, and $50 billion to implement smaller classes, exactly what kids will need after the various losses and deprivations they’ve suffered over the last year.
Yet during the Senate hearings for Education Secretary designee Miguel Cardona, Mitt Romney took his allotted time to attack the entire goal of lowering class size. As the Salt Lake Tribune noted, he “did not mention state he now represents. Utah has the largest average elementary school class sizes in the country & has for years. Some studies have shown a correlation between class size and learning, particularly among younger students. “
In some Utah schools, in an ordinary year, class sizes can be as large as forty kids per class.
Nor did Romney mention the fact that he attended the elite Cranbrook Academy in Michigan , which has average class sizes of 14 , or that he sent his sons to Belmont Hill School in Massachusetts, with average class sizes of 12.
Instead, in his comments, he referred to a McKinsey study from 2007 that pointed out that some high-performing nations like South Korea and Singapore have large classes. But these sorts of studies, including those from the OECD, too often omit two key factors:
Families in these nations spend a huge amount of their annual income on private tutoring programs. In 2010, South Korean families spent 10.7% of average household income on private tutoring, and amount has risen since then. South Korean students spend so much time in these private evening programs that they take pillows to help them sleep at their desks. Moreover, many of these nations like South Korea are making an effort to lower the class size in their schools.
There are several other Mckinsey reports that cite the value of smaller classes. See this 2010 McKinsey report which points out that “Research suggests, for example, that poor children who enter school behind their more affluent counterparts benefit from smaller class sizes that help them catch up.”
Or this 2012 report: “Students often better understand and apply concepts in discussion with peer classmates. Traditional classroom environments often do not allow this, especially with large class sizes or when students live far from one another.”
In his comments, Romney claimed that there was no relationship between students’ class size and their Naep scores. To the contrary, several peer-reviewed stuies show that smaller classes are correlated with higher NAEP scores after controlling for student background. Here is a selection:
- Lubienski, S. T., et.al. (2008). Achievement Differences and School Type: The Role of School Climate, Teacher Certification, and Instruction [secureservercdn.net]. American Journal of Education, 115. Multilevel analysis of National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) mathematics data for over 270,000 fourth and eighth graders in over 10,000 schools finds that smaller class size is significantly correlated with higher achievement.
- Unlu, F. (2005). California Class Size Reduction Reform: New Findings from the NAEP [secureservercdn.net]. Princeton University. Study found that California’s fourth grade students who were in reduced class sizes in grades K-3 had substantially higher scores in math on the national assessments (NAEPs), of between 0.2 and 0.3 of a standard deviation, compared to closely matched students who were not in smaller classes.
- Grissmer, D., et. al. (2000). Improving Student Achievement: What State NAEP Test Scores Tell Us [secureservercdn.net]. RAND. “States with higher per-pupil spending, lower class sizes and more pre-K have higher achievement levels. Disadvantaged children are the most likely to gain benefits from such programs.”
- McLaughlin, Donald and Gili Drori.(2000) School-Level Correlates of Academic Achievement: Student Assessment Scores in SASS Public Schools [secureservercdn.net]. U.S. Department of Education. National Center for Education Statistics. The most authoritative study showing the importance of class size is in all grades, analyzing the achievement levels of students in 2,561 schools, as measured by performance on the NAEP (national) exams. After controlling for student background, the only objective factor found to be positively correlated with student performance was class size, not school size, not teacher qualifications, nor any other variable that the researchers could identify. Student achievement was even more strongly linked to smaller classes in the upper rather than the lower grades.
Many other studies demonstrate the benefits of smaller classes, particularly among disadvantaged students, showing their positive impact on state test scores, graduation rates, disciplinary issues, the likelihood of attending college and even graduating with a STEM degree. Nearly all these effects are twice as high for low-income students and students of color, showing how class size is a key driver of equity.
In 2012, Romney got in trouble for expressing the same erroneous views during his Presidential campaign. He should be praised for being one of the few Republican officials to call out the lies of Donald Trump. Isn’t it time that you stopped spreading misinformation and educate yourself on class size, Mitt?