The Opportunity Cost of Smaller Classes: A State-by-State Spending Analysis

The Center on Reinventing Public Education has released a new study by Marguerite Roza and Monica Ouijdani that examines the cost of class size reduction – what it would cost per student to create smaller classes, and how those costs can add up significantly. And perhaps more importantly, the authors discuss whether the funding needed to create those smaller classes could be more effectively utilized elsewhere in the education system.

The Opportunity Cost of Smaller Classes: A State-by-State Spending Analysis begins with an attempt to downplay the rhetoric about “skyrocketing” class size and to determine just what the average class size is state by state. This is made difficult by the fact that the most-current class-size information nationwide hails from 2007-08. The authors suggest that this lack of current information is what allows anecdotal evidence of class size expansion nationwide to trump any sober analysis of the numbers.

Roza and Ouijdani, using both National Education Association (NEA) and National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) data on student-teacher ratios (generally available through 2012), generated an estimate of average class size in all states where reliable information was available. Sadly, Ohio’s reported data from NEA and NCES in 2011-12 were not in agreement and so no estimate was able to be generated for the Buckeye State. But the results show, in general, that average class size across the United States (38 states and the District of Columbia were included in the study) has decreased since 2007-08.This downward trend has of course been aided by laws in various states and incentives initiated and perpetuated by the No Child Left Behind law, but has certainly come about with considerable expense.

So, assuming that class sizes have in reality been shrinking since 2008, the authors estimate the cost of raising class sizes. By increasing class sizes just two students over the known 2008 averages in each state, would yield an annual savings of up to $15.7 billion nationwide. The cost savings of this marginal increase in class size could be, in turn, deployed for other classroom uses. Pay-raises for great teachers or iPads, anyone?

SOURCE: Marguerite Roza and Monica Ouijandi, The Opportunity Cost of Smaller Classes: A State-by-State Spending Analysis (Seattle, WA: Center on Reinventing Public Education, 2012)

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