(Jefferson City) -- As school districts across Missouri continue to cope with dwindling budgets, new research examines the impact of class size and the role that crowded classrooms can play in students' educational outcomes.
In a new policy brief, Diane Schanzenbach, associate professor of human development and social policy at Northwestern University, pointed out that having a manageable class size really does make a difference in how well students do in school.
"Much in line with parents' common sense and what teachers know," she said, "smaller classes mean that children learn more, they have better achievement and they have better lifetime outcomes if they're in smaller classes."
Her research found that student-teacher ratios in public schools fell steadily during the past 40 years, until recently. In the past five years, the average class size in the United States has increased 5 percent, to almost 22 students per classroom. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 22 also is the average class size in Missouri.
While lower class size may cost districts more in the short term, Schanzenbach said it may prove to be the more cost-effective policy overall.
"We have to be very careful with our resources, especially when the economy is bad, but we can't forget that investing in high-quality schools is an investment that's going to pay off over the long term," she said. "We shouldn't do something today that's 'penny wise and pound foolish,' like increasing class sizes."
Schanzenbach said her research determined that reducing class sizes to f8 to 20 students will pay for itself in terms of improvements in children's future well-being.
The brief entitled "Does Class Size Matter?" is published by the National Education Policy Center and is online at greatlakescenter.org.