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Volume 13, Number 4
July/August 1997

Smaller Classes Do Make a Difference in the Early Grades

Evidence from Tennessee's Project STAR sends school leaders a strong message


Every school leader must make critical decisions about how to organize students within his or her school. One major decision—determining size of classes—depends on what is known about the impact of different class sizes. Should all classes be of similar size? Does learning take place more effectively when certain classes are especially small and others are larger? The issue of class size has recently received a great deal of attention. In the wake of studies carried out in Tennessee and elsewhere, the state of California is instituting smaller class sizes (20 students) for grades K-3. Three other states, Florida, Georgia, and Utah, are also considering using smaller classes in the early grades. In Ireland, small classes (15 students) are being tried in the lower grades in economically depressed school districts.

Promising Research

U.S. education does not lack innovations; rather, it lacks careful, long-term evaluations of their performance. In order to be evaluated well, an intervention must be implemented in enough depth so that it is well defined. Teachers must first develop sufficient expertise to carry out the intervention. Then, after an initial evaluation, adjustments and improvements should be made, followed by further evaluation. This process, however, does not often take place in education. Instead, innovations are frequently introduced without sustained evaluation. As a result, policymakers do not have the information needed to make wise decisions within our education system.

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Also by this Author

    For Further Information

    For Further Information

    G.V. Glass, B. McGaw, and M.L. Smith. Meta-Analysis in Social Research. Beverly Hills: Sage, 1981.

    G.V. Glass and M.L. Smith. "Meta-analysis of Research on the Relationship of Class-size and Achievement." Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 1 (1979): 2-16.

    F. Mosteller. "The Tennessee Study of Class Size in the Early School Grades." Future of Children, 5, no. 2 (Summer/Fall 1995): 113-127.

    F. Mosteller, R.J. Light, and J.A. Sachs. "Sustained Inquiry in Education: Lessons from Skill Grouping and Class Size." Harvard Educational Review, 66, no. 4 (Winter 1996): 797-842.