Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Leonie Slaps Flypaper Over Class Size

Is there not stopping this woman? Yesterday she takes down the NY Times. Today she wipes out the Fordham Institute.

Leonie Haimson reports on the NYC Ed News Listserve:

See this nasty column in Flypaper – put out by the right-wing Fordham Institute, attacking my Huffington Post column on Frank McCourt posted here:

Check it out at and please leave a comment.

The author actually argues that smaller classes are unsubstantiated remedies….- Rather than adhering to rigorous research standards, we resort to sweeping generalizations and sentimental stories about children’s lives.”

Hogwash! Actually, the research is stronger for class size reduction than for nearly any other education reform – and certainly stronger than the favored remedies of the Fordham Institute crowd.

My comments are below.


Leonie Haimson

I'm glad that my column is being so widely read and cited, even by hidebound contrarians.

Actually, the scientific and empirical research is so strong for class size reduction that it is cited as only four evidence-based education reforms that have been proven to work by the Institute of Education Science -- the research arm of the US Dept. of Education. You can check it out yourself by googling the title: "IDENTIFYING AND IMPLEMENTING EDUCATIONAL PRACTICES SUPPORTED BY RIGOROUS EVIDENCE"

There are literally scores of studies indicating that smaller class sizes lead to better results -- not just STAR, which was one of the few large scale, randomized experiments in the history of education reform -- the gold standard according to most researchers.

Over and over again, smaller classes have been shown to lead to fewer disciplinary referrals, more learning, more student engagement, and less teacher attrition. Class size reduction has also been proven to be cost-effective. A recent study showed that in terms of health care, the economic cost-benefits would be expected to surpass childhood immunization.

Alan Krueger, formerly of Princeton and now the chief economist of the US Dept. of Treasury, has demonstrated that the number of positive studies on class size reduction far outnumber the negative ones. The links you provide above do not show otherwise.

Why ideologues and zealots put so much energy into disputing the simple fact that teachers can reach their students better and students learn more in smaller classes is beyond me. Why anyone would seriously argue that only student load matters and not class size -- as though the only learning and personal connection between teachers and students happens outside of the classroom -- I cannot possibly understand.

And Frank McCourt was a huge champion of smaller classes, as evidenced by his frequent comments on the subject as well as his agreement to be honorary chair of the campaign to lower class size in NYC public schools.

Perhaps its because unlike their own favorite strategies, such as privatization, vouchers, the expansion of charter schools and/or teacher incentive pay, none of which has any backing in the research, class size reduction has been proven to work, over and over again. Thus it is the dragon that they are unable to slay.

If anyone would like some fact sheets on this issue, including recent papers with findings about the importance of smaller classes in the middle and upper grades, you can email me at

I just took a look at the three links above -- supposedly research studies that weakens the case for smaller classes. One of the studies contains the following statement:

"Studies that used high-quality experimental data have consistently demonstrated the positive effects of small classes on average student achievement-for all students....The findings also indicated that although all types of students benefited from being in small classes, reductions in class size did not reduce the achievement gap between low and high achievers."

{This conclusion, by the way, is not shared by other researchers -- who have shown that class size reduction narrows the achievement gap between racial groups by more than 30%.)

The second is an EdWeek summary of the first article.

The third, an unpublished "discussion" paper by Boozer and Cacciola, also does not dispute the effects of smaller classes, but appears to divide class size into direct and indirect effects, with some of the significant gains exhibited by students in smaller classes attributed to peer effects.

Thus students who are in classes with other students who are doing better because of smaller classes also benefit because their peers are doing better. At least that is what the article seems to conclude: "Small class type treatment induced not just potentially a boost in that child's test score outcome, but an indirect or spillover effect on the child's classmates through the peer group effect. This is what we mean by the feedback or social multiplier effect of the Small class type treatment."

There are many positive feedbacks that occur in smaller classes. The smaller the class, the more engaged are its students, and fewer disciplinary problems occur. The fewer disruptions, the easier it is for teachers to teach and low-performing students to focus and model their behavior on more engaged students. Also there is less stereotyping in both directions -- from teacher to students and students to teacher.

Teachers can figure out quicker who is or is not responding to a specific technique, style or approach, and alter their methods more quickly and effectively to reach specific students; and students feel as though their teachers understand and care about them more, and are willing to put back into the classroom their focus and energy.

None of this is surprising, and none of it is difficult to understand.

In any case, according to my reading of these articles, not one of them weakens the case that smaller classes leads to better outcomes.


Leonie Haimson
Executive Director
Class Size Matters

Please make a tax-deductible contribution to Class Size Matters now!


  1. Yea Leonie!

    Don't stop Leonie.

    I just now contributed my .02 to Flypaper as well.

  2. Very nice Blog.I like this Blog.Leonie is a Greek-origin feminine given name, (meaning "lioness"), from the masculine personal name Leon (meaning "lion"). Leonie evolved to LĂ©onie in France. It is rare as a surname.Well done Leonie.

  3. Interesting post
    find it very useful..
    Thanks for sharing


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