No, Size Doesn’t Matter

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With teacher unions now in full battle mode, prepared to fight for even more money and even less accountability, coast to coast, a timely article in the always outstanding City Journal is worth noting.

The piece, by Larry Sand, current president of the California Teachers Empowerment Network, addresses the common claim by teachers' unions that if only class sizes were smaller — which, of course, would require that taxes go higher — educational quality would improve. This is a common ploy of these covens of rapacious rentseekers, whenever parents complain about the wretched education served up at the average American public school. But Sand’s piece reminds us anew of what an asinine myth it is.

He notes that from the point of view of teachers, small classes are great — fewer kids to deal with, fewer papers to grade, and fewer parents to placate. And certainly American taxpayers have been accommodating: since the 1950s, while the number of students nationwide has risen by 60%, the number of school employees — teachers, administrators, and staff — has metastasized by 300%. Yes, that’s right: the number of highly-paid, impossible to fire, union-dues-paying educrats has risen at five times the rate of the rise in new children. (Remember: every new hire represents another $600 per year in union dues).

Nationally, there were 26.9 public school students for every teacher in 1955, 22.3 per teacher in 1970, and 15.5 per teacher in 2007 (the last year for which there are stats). But average student achievement scores remained essentially flat during the past 40 years.

Students in countries that have much higher student-teacher ratios than ours (such as Japan and Korea) routinely outscore American students by a large margin. Ironically, as Sand notes, research (conducted by economist Eric Hanushek) shows that firing the worst 5% of teachers, without replacing them, would only slightly increase the average size of classes, but it would increase student outcomes to roughly those of high-scoring countries such as Canada or even Finland.

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