Class Size Policy - March 14, 2024

The House Education Committee heard a literature review on Thursday afternoon from Anne Bordonaro (Interim Deputy Secretary, Agency of Education) regarding class size impact on education quality. She highlighted their key takeaways:

  • VT has very small class sizes (relative to other states and to our own maximums in SB rule which are 20 for K-3 and 25 for 4-12).
  • Per the research on class size, there is room for class size increases without harming student achievement.
  • Our very small class sizes may have negative impacts beyond cost.
  • If the Leg wishes to contain personnel-related educational costs, they may wish to look at staff: student ratios, not just teacher: student ratios.

She noted that one of the things the Agency is interested in answering is whether or not our class sizes are too small from an educational standpoint. Most research on class size has concentrated on the impact of reducing class sizes on student achievement. There is very little research regarding the impact of increasing class sizes or of "too small" classes. Despite a large literature on class size effects on academic achievement, only a few studies are of high enough quality and sufficiently relevant to be given credence as a basis for legislative action.

Overall, class-size reduction has been shown to work for some students in some grades in some states and countries, but its impact has been found to be mixed or not discernable in other settings and circumstances. Studies show small effects, no effects, or inconclusive results. A review of 59 studies found that only 11% indicated positive effects, while 9% were negative.

One thing that Bordonaro cautioned, is that class size minimums and maximums should pertain to averages across a school, with exceptions for special cases. Some specialized classes, at a high school for example, may only have a handful of students.

Chairman Conlon asked about best available studies regarding relevant legislative actions to consider. Bordonaro responded that the citations tables contained some very good references that are recommended.

Representative McCann asked whether she is using class sizes and student ratio synonymously? Not really, was the answer, but it depends also upon the teacher and/or assistant ratio so student to adult versus other ways of measuring professionals in the room need to be addressed.

Conlon suggested they share the conclusion that “we fall well within the definition… of small class sizes…” Bordonaro agreed that we definitely do. Conlon followed with a question about whether age brackets matter, Bordonaro indicated that they did not seem to and most studies didn’t even consider it.

Representative Brady asked if this constituted support from the Agency for consideration of “minimum class sizes” legislation. Heather Bouchey (Interim Secretary, Agency of Education) stepped in to answer, saying that “we are in a unique situation here and there isn’t cause to believe that increasing class size would have a detrimental impact on kids (from the present base numbers). She stressed that the most important factor is teacher quality. Slightly larger classes really shows it works well, she claimed, and the academic outcomes and the fiscal impacts both could be improved.

She also argued that smaller schools harbor fewer opportunity for advanced and diverse offerings; budget cuts at these schools tend to degrade quality outcomes as well. Bordonaro added that many smaller schools exacerbate staffing deficits and provisional licensure, fewer classes would allow for fewer demands for credentialed staff.

Brady asked about whether minimum class sizes would apply to independent schools and whether or not they would be able to “advertise smaller classes” for that reason? Representative Stone piggybacked off the question, citing Auditor Hoffer’s “excellent report” about quality showing the “requirements of being a teacher at an independent school are quite different” and questioned what constitutes quality at these schools and how to compare them.

NOTE: Unlike public schools, independent schools are required to be accredited in order to receive public dollars. This means that their curriculum and student outcomes need to meet certain standards.

Bouchey suggested that the Committee ask the independent schools that as they have no regulatory authority over that.

Stone cited a VTDigger story about a closed public school and “now there is an independent school operating in the carcass of that school… and so it’s like… how do you grapple with that?” Bouchey stated that it was a local decision to do this, “the State, to my knowledge, has never closed a school... It is in Title 16 but is a year’s long process,”

Conlon added that that some of these cost savings, they “need to remember,” may actually be academically beneficial changes (implying consolidation).

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