Class Size: What Research Says and What it Means for State Policy

Josh Pierson


Class Size coverSince the appearance of his May
2010 working paper
, Matthew Chingos has quickly established himself as a
go-to name for information on class-size research. And this Brookings paper,
co-authored with Grover (Russ) Whitehurst, confirms that status. Building off a
authored by Chingos
for the Center for American Progress back in April,
this piece offers a thorough literature review on class-size reduction (CSR),
bringing us one step closer to a definitive analysis of the mixed-bag research
of CSR. (Some research found positive
effects in the early grades
, other research found none, and still other
research found that gains made by reducing class sizes were offset by the need
to pull in lower-quality teachers to staff the newly created classes.) Further,
Whitehurst and Chingos warn that CSR mandates and incentives (currently
practiced in twenty-four states) are extremely costly: Decreasing the
pupil/teacher ratio by just one student would cost $12 billion. Understanding that CSR
is cherished by many, the authors recommend two approaches to the policy:
First, lift CSR mandates. If that doesn’t work, target them to young, minority
children who would most benefit. It may not be a sexy paper, but thorough it is.

Grover J. “Russ”
Whitehurst and Matthew M. Chingos, “Class
Size: What Research Says and What it Means for State Policy
,” (Washington,
D.C.: Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institute, May 2011).