The AP's Lisa Leff has a great story today about the rise and fall of the class size reduction program for grades K-3. During the boom times in the 1990s, the state invested heavily to reduce class sizes down to 20-1. In the successive busts since then, funding has been eliminated for CSR, and seems unlikely to return:
California embarked on an ambitious experiment in 1996 to improve its public schools by putting its youngest students in smaller classes. Nearly 17 years later, the goal of maintaining classrooms of no more than 20 pupils in the earliest grades has been all but discarded-- a casualty of unproven results, dismal economic times and the sometimes-fleeting nature of education reform.
To save money on teacher salaries amid drastic cutbacks in state funding, many school districts throughout the state have enlarged their first-, second- and third-grade classes to an average of 30 children, the maximum allowed under a 1964 law, state finance officials and education experts said. Hundreds more have sought -- and been granted -- waivers authorizing them to push enrollment in individual kindergarten and primary grade classrooms to 35 and above. (AP)
California's overall K-12 teacher to student ratio, 24-1, is the highest in the nation. That shouldn't be that surprising considering our rank in the bottom 20% of per pupil funding. Combine that with relatively (but still undervalued) high teacher salaries, and you have a recipe for large classrooms.
The research is mixed on the effectiveness of class size reduction as an educational policy. But it can hardly be argued that such large classrooms, 35 or more, are the best situation for learning.