Monday, January 17, 2005

Sam Anderson’s Presentation before the NY City Council Commission on the Implementation of CFE

Sam Anderson’s Presentation before the NY City Council Commission on the Implementation of CFE-
January 13, 2005

Distinguished members of the NY City Council Commission on the Implementation of CFE, City Councilpeople, and citizens of New York City, I simply want to address the overwhelming scientific findings supporting the concept that class size does help create a more academically developed young person- particularly young African American and Latino persons. I also want to stress that smaller class size is a necessary but not sufficient condition for true educational excellence to flourish in New York City public education. Our system needs fundamental changes from top to bottom that establishes “Education as a Human Right” as its raison d’etre… not just more money and smaller classes.

It is documented that in the primary grades, when students are in classes of around 15 students per teacher, they are going to gain two to three months in academic achievement over their peers in larger classes.

The Tennessee STAR (Tennessee's Student Teacher Achievement Ratio) study -concluded back in 2000- was one of the largest educational experiments in the United States. "Experiment" in a scientific sense, in that the STAR study featured random assignment of students and teachers and carefully controlled experimental conditions.

The study began in 1985 with a group of kindergarten students who were in small classes through third grade. Between 8,000 and 10,000 students participated in STAR.

Those students have now graduated from college or are on the verge of graduating. Researchers have followed the students through the grades and have been able to document that their achievement gains in the primary grades continued throughout high school. Furthermore, they took the SAT and ACT tests at significantly higher rates than students who were in the larger classes.

One of the most encouraging results of the Wisconsin 1995 to 2000 study called: SAGE (Student Achievement Guarantee in Education) is the positive effect on the achievement gap between Black & white students. In the SAGE evaluation, evidence revealed that African-American students narrowed the gap in terms of their achievement with whites.

African-American students in both the SAGE schools and the comparison schools started off with their achievement at a significantly lower rate than white students. In the SAGE schools, Black students tended to narrow the academic achievement gap with white students. In the comparison schools, the African-American students fell further behind.

This corresponds to the Tennessee findings and the results of follow-up studies of students who attended small classes in the STAR experiment. Consider, for example, the ACT and SAT test-taking statistics on these students. Both Black and white students who took part in the smaller classes in the primary grades had significantly higher rates of taking the SAT and ACT. But the rate of increase for African Americans was substantially higher than that for whites. There was, in fact, a closing of the test-taking gap in that respect.

Today in the US, schools are perceived as cultural communities where the complex interplay of race, class, nationality, gender, and spiritual beliefs affect the lives of all who learn and teach in those institutions. The class size research agenda has been transformed to include such variables as instructional method, teacher morale and stress, teacher work load, student behavior and attitudes, content areas, student characteristics, and grade level.

In contemporary times, progressive education researchers have come to a broad agreement on the following general conclusions:
• Smaller classes result in increased student-teacher contact.
• Reductions in class size to less than 20 students without changes in instructional methods cannot guarantee improved academic achievement.
• No single class size is optimal for all grade levels and subjects.
• Smaller classes appear to result in greater achievement gains for students with lower academic ability and for those who are economically or socially oppressed.
• Classroom management improves in smaller classes (fewer discipline problems).
• Smaller classes result in higher teacher morale and reduced stress.
• Individualization is more likely to occur in smaller classes.
• Class size reductions alone do not necessarily lead to adoption of dramatically different instructional methods.
• Class size appears to have more influence on student attitudes, attention, interest, and motivation than on academic achievement.
• Smaller classes are beneficial for children at the primary level, particularly in math and reading.
• Very small classes of five or fewer students produce considerably higher achievement (Bennett, p. 3).

Major findings presented in the research on class size include:

• There is probably no optimum class size for all types of students, in all subject areas, and at all grade levels. • Smaller classes produce the necessary, though not sufficient, conditions for successful teaching and learning.
• Reduced class sizes in grades K-3, in the range of 13-17 students per class, significantly enhance student achievement.
• Reductions in class sizes to less than 20 students without changes in instructional methods cannot guarantee enhanced student achievement.
• Small class size, in the range of 13-17 students, benefits all students in all contexts at the K-3 level.
• Regular-size classes with a teacher aide are less effective than small classes in enhancing student achievement at the K-3 level.
• There are identifiable teaching behaviors which will enhance the benefits of a small class design; these include individual instruction, coaching, mentoring, and tutoring.
• The evidence favoring small class size at the upper grade levels is weak because teaching behaviors appear to be more rigid and research methodologies have been inadequate.
• Teacher inservice opportunities must accompany reduced class sizes so that appropriate teaching can be developed and reinforced.
• Class size definitions vary, depending on whether mean or median numbers are used.
• Class size averages may obscure the fact that some students require extra attention and care.
• Both class size and teacher workload (the number of students evaluated during the year) are important indicators of school quality.

This review of existing research, with all of its built-in limitations, suggests that increasing student learning by reducing class size is a positive but complex matter. It also suggests that class size reductions should be targeted to specific student groups for specific purposes which teachers must receive the training needed to make the most of the new learning opportunities available in smaller classes, and that race, class and gender must play an upfront role in determining the quality and quantity of classes.

A Human Rights-centered education mandates/demands not only smaller class size and an antiracist curriculum for educational excellence to flourish but also fundamental system-change to include students, parents and teachers in the daily local and citywide decision-making processes within all aspects of public education. Short of this, all we will be doing is continuing the present tracking system for poor children of color straight into prisons, poverty or graves.
Sam Anderson <>- Education Director, Center for Law & Social Justice at Medgar Evers College, The City University of New York -- Member of Black New Yorkers for Educational Excellence and the Independent Commission On Public Education (ICOPE)