$4 BILLION versus…Nothing

This morning all of California’s major newspapers carried front page stories presenting the conclusions of a multi-million dollar study of California’s vaunted class-size reduction program, which has spent some $4 BILLION since 1996 on ensuring that most elementary school classrooms contain no more than 20 students. Established with the joint support of Democrats and Republicans, the policy has proven extremely popular among politicians, parents, and teachers.

Unfortunately for all these groups, the research concluded that this $4 billion program has had negligible impact on student performance. Students who have spent a full three years in these smaller classrooms apparently have academic test scores just 3 percentage points higher than similar students who have not benefitted from smaller classes. Furthermore, even this tiny improvement may disappear when controlled for additional variables, and there is the possibility that the switch to smaller classes may even have had a negative impact on student performance. The smaller classes had required the rapid hiring of huge numbers of additional teachers, many of whom were of poor quality, so an actual drop in educational quality is quite plausible.

Despite these dispiriting results, prominent elected officials and administrators cited the alleged 3% improvement over three years as an excellent sign of progress and proof that the new program was worth the $4 billion spent.

By contrast, the Oceanside district near San Diego has shown that strict adherence to the English immersion programs of Prop. 227 can increase immigrant test scores by 100% or 200% in just seven months, and other school districts around California are now also revealing post-Prop. 227 gains in immigrant test scores of 50%, 100%, or 150% in well under one year of the new Prop. 227 system, which incidentally cost…nothing. Naturally, the same officials who tout a possible gain of 2% over 3 years as excellent argue that a gain of 100% in under one year means that “the jury is still out.”

Sometimes public policy debates resemble Monty Python sketches.

Below I provide our Oceanside press release and one of the articles on the class-size reduction fiasco.

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