Unveiling a proposal to help public schools hire more teachers several years ago, Bill Clinton said "every parent already knows" that education improves when class size shrinks. As skeptical as they may have been about many other things that Clinton said, most Americans probably agreed, and reducing student-teacher ratios remains a favorite goal of education reformers.
But as researchers such as University of Rochester economist Eric Hanushek have been pointing out for years, there is little reason to believe that hiring more teachers leads to better academic performance. A new study covering 84 percent of the country's public high schools provides further grounds for skepticism.
Analyzing data for 12,916 schools, the Columbus-based educational research service SchoolMatch found no significant association between the number of students per teacher and SAT or ACT scores. "There simply appears to be no positive relationship between small classes and student success on college entrance examinations," said Steven M. Sundre, SchoolMatch's executive vice president.
In a time of tight state budgets, this contradiction of conventional wisdom should be welcome news. "Roughly 90 percent of the operating funds of public schools are spent on staff commitments," noted SchoolMatch President William L. Bainbridge. "Nothing has a greater impact upon a school system's budget than low pupil/teacher ratios."