Cut class sizes hoping it will boost literacy. Repeat.

Having just written a piece in Monday’s Sydney Morning Herald pointing out that lower class sizes over the past 25 years have not raised literacy and numeracy standards, I was mildly surprised to open today’s paper, and find Tony Vinson arguing that we should cut class sizes in order to raise literacy standards.

This seems to be driven more by theology than sound science. The news report cites a NSW class size reduction program, but the Carr government doesn’t seem to have even bothered trying to do a serious experiment that would address the standard selection problems. In the absence of any good Australian evidence on class size cuts, my inclination would be to fall back on the rigorous US studies that have been done, which suggest modest bang for a lot of buck, and with attendant problems for poorer schools.

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2 Responses to Cut class sizes hoping it will boost literacy. Repeat.

  1. Steve Edney says:

    Its hardly suprising that the economic solution that you wrote about, doesn’t register on an education academic, and instead they advocate a solution within their field of expertise. Sadly this is too frequently the case and not just in education.

    You mention that there’s not much bang for your buck in smaller class sizes, but do you have any way of estimating what the effect of higher pay at the top levels of education (giving more incentive to good teachers) would do per dollar spent?

  2. Andrew Leigh says:

    Steve, the B/C analysis of education initiatives is in its infancy, but Sara Mead and I had a go at comparing the benefits (though not the costs) of class size cuts with improving teacher quality (http://econrsss.anu.edu.au/~aleigh/pdf/LiftingTeacherPerformancePPI.pdf).

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