I just listened to an interesting 30-min Econtalk podcast interview with Rick Hanushek from Stanford, talking about education and how to make schools better.
The most interesting part was the discussion about a study that shows that class sizes don't affect educational outcomes much. After accounting for things like socioeconomic background, teacher education level, geography, etc., it turns out that the difference in outcomes is negligible, even between a 25-student classroom and a 15-student classroom.
In fact, he claims that if the goal is to improve student performance, only one thing really matters: teacher quality. The difference between "good" teachers and "bad" teachers is so dramatic that it makes everything else irrelevant.
It just turns out that some teachers have the ability to take a classroom of kids at any performance level and increase their performance, consistently, year-after-year, regardless of starting level and regardless of all the other variables we ordinarily try to control (salary, class size, textbook spending, etc.)
Unfortunately it's very hard to say what makes some teachers better than others. We do know what doesn't matter: graduate degree, years of experience (after a few year start-up period), salary, school district.
Here are some of the references:
About the failure of spending and smaller class size to improve test scores:
- The Failure of Input-based Schooling Policies
- Class Size
- Public Schools by John Chubb, in the Concise Encyclopedia of Economics
About the importance of teacher quality:
Economics of education at EconLog with Arnold Kling and Bryan Caplan