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Volume 13, Number 4
July/August 1997

Shrinking Pains

California's Initiative to Reduce Class Size Is Off to a Bumpy Start


The data from Tennessee's Project STAR, a four-year study related to class size, were central to a discussion in mid-September 1996 among some 50 California state officials, local education leaders, and academics who were called together by the California Education Policy Seminar, a neutral forum for seminars on education policy, to assess the chaos around them. From one end of the state to the other, more than 850 school districts were frantically attempting to implement the class-size-reduction initiative of the governor and legislature with only a few weeks' lead time to put it in place. The initiative allocated almost $1 billion in new monies to share among those districts willing to reduce the ratio of students to teachers to 20:1 in one or more K-3 grades.

While the STAR results were credited with influencing the policymakers' original decision to make this huge investment, some felt that STAR's results were shaky ground on which to pin so much money and so many expectations. Consultant Jeremy Finn, currently a visiting scholar at the Educational Testing Service, confirmed STAR's positive findings, but questioned whether the results were relevant for California. The study included only a portion of Tennessee's primary-age population—6,000 students—while California's initiative has to deal with 1.3 million students in the affected grades. Tennessee's pilot reduced class size even more than California, to 15 students for each teacher. Its schools had a year of planning time; California's had none. Tennessee had a sufficient number of licensed teachers and classroom space; California had neither.

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For Further Information

For Further Information

"Class Size Reduction," Legislative Analyst's Office, 925 L St., Suite 1000, Sacramento, CA 95814.

CERC Newsletter, 9, no. 2 (Fall/Winter 1996); School of Education at the University of California at Riverside, 1362 Sproul Hall, Riverside, CA 92521.

"Is Less More? Exploring California's New Class Size Reduction Initiative," California Education Policy Seminar and the California State University Institute for Education Reform, CSU, 6000 J St., Sacramento, CA 95819-6018.