Larger classes typically trigger higher dropout rates and wind up costing more in the long run with less educated workers who pay less in taxes, an expert witness in the Texas school finance trial said Wednesday.
From the Dallas Morning News, by Terrence Stutz
The testimony comes as school districts across the state continue to increase class sizes to make ends meet.
Clive Belfield, an economist at Queens College in New York, said there are several steps school districts can take to increase their graduation rates, but most involve spending more money, and there has been resistance to funding increases in Texas and other states.
Over the long term, he said, raising teacher pay, reducing class sizes and funding other improvements has a direct impact on how many students will graduate from high school — and he offered several examples of the return Texas could expect if it were to finance such upgrades.
In class size, for example, Belfield said significant class size reductions in kindergarten through third grade — similar to those in Tennessee and other states — could increase the graduation rate by 11 percent.
“It is a very popular policy from the teacher perspective, but unfortunately it is a costly intervention,” he said. Many states don’t want to make such an investment, he added, even though it is in their best interest for more to graduate.
“In a class of 15 students, the teacher can spend more time with struggling students. With a class size of 30, a student who is having difficulty is more likely to be left behind,” he said, pointing out those students are more likely to eventually drop out.
His testimony came as new figures from the Texas Education Agency indicated that a large number of elementary classes will again exceed the 22-pupil limit for kindergarten through fourth grade this year.
Already nearly 5,500 classes at about 1,000 campuses have been excused from the 22-pupil limit as districts try to offset the massive funding reductions approved by the Legislature last year. In all, 170 districts have obtained waivers from the state allowing them to exceed the limit, with most citing financial hardship because of their funding cuts.
Belfield, an expert witness for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, also said raising teacher salaries has a positive effect on high school graduation rates. His analysis indicated that if Texas raised average teacher pay by 10 percent, it would increase the graduation rate by 5 percent.
He cited two immediate benefits — veteran teachers would be more likely to stay in their jobs and the applicant pool of teachers for vacant jobs would be larger, with more graduates from elite colleges.