Term Paper: Education Class Size vs. School

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[. . .] Krueger and Whitmore based the study's data on African-American voucher students for the sake of comparison. Krueger and Whitmore found that students who had attended small classes "improved their test performance by around 50% more than the gain experienced by black students who attended a private school as a result of receiving a voucher."

According to Pathak et al. (2004): "The African-American voucher students were learning in the very educational climate that many policy analysts have long sought for public schools- a climate that is incredibly difficult to create when a state diverts substantial tax dollars to vouchers."

One of the most publicized reports on this topic is "Test-Score Effects of School Vouchers in Dayton, Ohio; New York City; and Washington, D.C.: Evidence From Randomized Field Trials," which was developed by a team of researchers, including Paul Peterson of Harvard University (Molnar and Achilles, 2002). Shortly after the voucher report was published, former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich wrote an article in The Wall Street Journal calling for "progressive vouchers." Referring to the latest voucher study, Reich stated: "Evidence mounts that vouchers do work for kids who use them."

Reich's statement was supported by little evidence. Nearly all of the research on the achievement impact of publicly funded voucher programs is developed from the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program and the Cleveland Scholarship and Tutoring Program. While the Cleveland evaluation is ongoing, the Milwaukee data are now several years old. Additionally, the 1995 legislation that expanded the Milwaukee program to include religious schools also removed its evaluation component, so no new information will be available anytime soon. Thus, most of the evidence about the impact of voucher programs comes from privately funded voucher programs, including those in Dayton, New York City, and Washington.

In Reich's report, the Peterson team showed the results from Dayton, New York, and Washington averaged across grade levels and the combined averaged results from all three cities. Since averaged results tend to hide inconsistent findings, they may make the achievement impact reported appear more generalized than it is.

In this case, even the averaged results show inconsistency. For example, according to the Peterson team, just being offered a voucher makes a notable difference in reading but not math achievement for African-Americans in New York City. In Dayton, the offer produces no significant result. In Washington, the offer makes a difference in African-American test scores in reading and math. Actually switching to a voucher school in New York results in an advantage in reading for African-American students. In Washington, there is an advantage in reading but not math. In Dayton, switching to vouchers resulted in no achievement advantage.

According to a five-year Indiana University study, students in the Cleveland voucher program performed on the same level as their public school peers (Metcalf, 2004). After tracking the test scores of 6,000 students from kindergarten through fourth grade, the researchers found no difference in performance. The results were statistically adjusted to account for lower test scores of low-income and minority children, because the voucher group had a greater proportion of white and affluent children. "After you adjust for minority status, there's no difference," said the study's chief author, Kim Metcalf.

The study also reported high parent satisfaction with the program and a desire of poor parents to give their children the same opportunities that more affluent families have. "It seems to reflect a desire to help their children develop ways of interacting, behaving and thinking that will help them to be successful, productive and self-sufficient adults," Metcalf (2004) said.

The study shows that voucher proponents failed to live up to promises of delivering a better education by taking children out of public schools, said Marc Egan of the National School Boards Association in Alexandria, Va. "They're nothing but a diversion from really improving public schools," he said (Metcalf, 2004).

Students who entered the voucher program from public schools had the same income and ethnic characteristics as the entire public school population, the study said, but private school students who received scholarships were more likely to be white and affluent.

The program seems to do well offering scholarships, the report stated, "but it may not be completely effective in attracting and retaining students from the very low-income, African-American families that it originally targeted."

Vouchers are a sideshow distracting from the real issues of education reform: academic standards; accountability for student performance; meaningful public school choice, including charter schools; teacher quality; and equitable and sufficient investment (Rotherham, 2002). Voucher initiatives essentially continue a phony war that allows both established educational interests and voucher proponents to dodge the thornier questions of school reform by focusing on a meaningless soundbite campaign."

Aside from the basic methodological questions that threaten the validity of many voucher findings, the literature on vouchers and academic achievement adds up to an inconsistent block of results that offer little guidance to either parents or policymakers. Unfortunately, as Jay P. Greene once stated in Education Week (Molnar and Achilles, 2002). "Interest groups have learned that they can successfully check research contrary to their goals by producing their own studies, no matter how lousy, to sow confusion among policymakers, journalists, and the attentive public about what to believe."

Therefore, despite the preliminary character and inconsistent outcomes of voucher research, voucher advocates claim that the achievement evidence is clear, systematic, and compelling. Some compare the power of the research and the magnitude of the voucher findings to the results of class-size research, most frequently the Tennessee Student-Teacher Achievement Ratio, or STAR, experiment.

The STAR project, which took place in Tennessee from 1985 to 1989, was a longitudinal, randomized experiment involving 11,600 students, grades K-3. STAR aimed to determine the effect of reducing class size in grades K-3 on student achievement and social development. STAR students were monitored throughout their K-12 education careers and continue to be tracked in their postsecondary pursuits. Thus, STAR serves as a large-scale, longitudinal analysis of the impact of reducing class size in the primary grades.

There have been a variety of studies conducted based on the initial STAR findings. Krueger and Whitmore (1999) found a relationship between participation in a STAR small class and the rates at which students took college-entrance exams. Follow-up studies of STAR students in grades 4-12 revealed that they outperformed students who had been in normal-size classes on tests in all subject areas tested. Students enrolled in small classes from kindergarten to grade 3 outperformed regular-class students on all tests, every year, and the gap between small and regular-class test results grew each year. For example, an average STAR student in a small class for grades K-3 would outperform a regular-class student at grade 4 by 6.6 months and by 8.7 months at grade 8, five years after leaving the small-class environment.

Positive voucher academic effects is sometimes are often compared to the total STAR effects, rather than the STAR effects for minority students. For voucher studies, in which the majority of students are African-American, the relevant comparison is to the performance of STAR minority students. For those students, the STAR effects were nearly double the total effects. Also, it appears that the voucher students who perform at a higher level than students in public schools usually attend smaller classes in smaller schools.

A recent RAND Corp. study of American education, "Improving Student Achievement," found strong associations between student achievement and both higher public pre-kindergarten participation and reduced pupil-teacher ratios in the lower grades.

Some voucher advocates argue that no one has demonstrated that vouchers harm public schools. However, this argument is insufficient. Good public policy should be constructed using the most accurate data available to enable the public schools provide the best possible education to the students they serve.

Hypothesis

Recently, President George W. Bush signed the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which is commonly known as the No Child Left Behind Act (Pathak et al., 2004). The goal of ESEA's bipartisan supporters is to "base school improvement efforts less on intuition and experience and more on research-based evidence." As the reform debate continues, it is important to examine two distinct proposals -- private school vouchers and class size reduction -- to determine their impact on student achievement.

The U.S. Supreme Court will soon issue a ruling that determines whether the Cleveland voucher program is constitutional. At the root of this ruling is the question of whether vouchers are educationally sound. Thus, it is important to understand what research reveals about vouchers and if there are better alternatives. This paper hypothesizes that there is a better alternative -- reducing class sizes in public schools.

Both vouchers and class-size reduction are well-researched proposals. However, depending on scientifically-based research to assess these two proposals is a flawed method. Regarding the results from the Milwaukee voucher program and from a more recent voucher undertaking in New York City, Rouse warns that the lack of follow-up research means… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Education Class Size vs. School.  (2004, April 16).  Retrieved April 26, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/education-class-size-school/6731059

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