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The Enduring Effects of Small Classes


by Jeremy D. Finn, Susan B. Gerber, Charles M. Achilles & Jayne Boyd-Zaharias — 2001

The purpose of this investigation was to extend our knowledge of the effects of small classes in the primary grades on pupils’ academic achievement. Three questions were addressed that have not been answered in previous research: (1) How large are the effects of small classes relative to the number of years students participate in those classes? (2) How much does any participation in small classes in K–3 affect performance in later grades when all classes are full-size? (3) How much does the duration of participation in small classes in K–3 affect the magnitude of the benefits in later grades (4, 6, and 8)? Rationales for expecting the continuing impacts of small classes were derived in the context of other educational interventions (for example, Head Start, Perry Preschool Project). The questions were answered using data from Tennessee’s Project STAR, a statewide controlled experiment in which pupils were assigned at random to small classes, full-size classes, or classes with a full-time teaching assistant. Hierarchical linear models (HLMs) were employed because of the multilevel nature of the data; the magnitude of the small-class effect was expressed on several scales including “months of schooling.” The results for question (1) indicate that both the year in which a student first enters a small class and the number of years(s) he participates in a small class are important mediators of the benefits gained. The results for questions (2) and (3) indicate that starting early and continuing in small classes for at least three years are necessary to assure long-term carryover effects. Few immediate effects of participation in a class with a full-time teacher aide, and no long-term benefits, were found. The results are discussed in terms of implications for class-size reduction initiatives and further research questions.


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 103 Number 2, 2001, p. 145-183
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 10725, Date Accessed: 3/30/2017 12:42:24 PM

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About the Author
  • Jeremy Finn
    State University of New York at Buffalo
    E-mail Author
    Jermey D. Finn is Professor of Education at State University of New York at Buffalo. His research interests include students and schools at risk, student resilience, educational equity, classroom organization, and statistical methods. He has been conducting research on class size and teacher aides since 1985, when he began as external evaluator for Tennessee’s Project STAR.
  • Susan Gerber
    State University of New York at Buffalo
    Susan B. Gerber is Associate Director of the Center for the Study of Technology in Education and Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Graduate School of Education at State University of New York at Buffalo. Her research interests include policy- and instruction-related approaches to providing all students with essential learning opportunities.
  • Charles Achilles
    Eastern Michigan University
    Charles M. Achilles is Professor of Education Leadership at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti and author of Let’s Put Kids First, Finally: Getting Class Size Right (Corwin Press, 1999). He was a principal investigator of Project STAR and has conducted class size research continuously since 1984.
  • Jayne Boyd-Zaharias
    HEROS, Inc.
    Jane Boyd-Zaharias is the Director of Health & Education Research Operative Services, Incorporated (HEROS, Inc.), a not-for-profit research agency in Tennessee. Prior to joining HEROS, she served as Director of Class Size Studies at Tennessee State University. Boyd-Zaharias is a co–principal investigator of STAR follow-up studies and has authored more than 30 publications and presentations related to class size research.
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