Press Release

Smaller Classes Aren’t Working

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RALEIGH – Smaller class sizes do not translate into better public-school performance. That’s the key finding in a new analysis from the John Locke Foundation.

The idea behind the state’s $23 million class-size reduction program was that smaller classes would help students by giving them more access to individualized instruction. But after four years, there is no statistical evidence that the program works.

The High Priority Schools Initiative (HPSI) aimed to improve low-performing and low-income schools by reducing class sizes. In his latest Spotlight paper, John Locke Foundation education policy analyst Terry Stoops analyzes the final report on the HPSI by the State Board of Education and finds the program lacking any proof it even works.

“It seemed to make sense that smaller class sizes would lead to higher educational achievement,” Stoops said. “But in fact, the opposite happened. As class sizes decreased, so did achievement.”

The HPSI report compared the 36 schools in the program with nine schools not in the program, Stoops said. These comparison schools had similar demographics to the high-priority (HP) schools. They did not have reduced class sizes.

In 2004-05, after four years of the program, 7 percent fewer HP schools were meeting their expected ABC growth targets than before. At the same time, 45 percent more comparison schools were meeting growth targets than in 2001-02.

“Comparison schools showed greater improvement than the HP schools even in reading proficiency,” Stoops said, “even though reading was the area where smaller class sizes were thought to provide the greatest benefits.”

The percentage of HP schools meeting the federal No Child Left Behind law’s standards for Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) also declined, Stoops said. Meanwhile, comparison schools meeting AYP standards increased.

“The best the HPSI report could say in favor of the program was based not on statistical evidence, but only anecdotal evidence,” Stoops said.

Terry Stoops’s Spotlight paper, “Honey, I Shrunk the Class! How Reducing Class Size Fails to Raise Student Achievement,” is available on the Locke Foundation’s website. For more information, please contact Terry Stoops at 919-828-3876 or [email protected]. To arrange an interview, you may also contact JLF communications director Mitch Kokai at (919) 306-8736 or [email protected].

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About John Locke Foundation

We are North Carolina’s Most Trusted and Influential Source of Common Sense. The John Locke Foundation was created in 1990 as an independent, nonprofit think tank that would work “for truth, for freedom, and for the future of North Carolina.” The Foundation is named for John Locke (1632-1704), an English philosopher whose writings inspired Thomas Jefferson and the other Founders.

The John Locke Foundation is a 501(c)(3) research institute and is funded solely from voluntary contributions from individuals, corporations, and charitable foundations.