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Education Reporter

How Teachers Use 'Class Size'
Ploy to Create More Jobs

Jim Tobin
In the 1950s, when I was in private school on Chicago's West Side, my classes had between 40 and 60 students. Still we had no trouble learning our lessons, and there were no serious discipline problems. At that time the average class size in the Chicago Public Schools was also larger than it is now, between 30 and 40 students per class. Nevertheless, verbal and math SAT scores were the highest in the mid-1950s when class sizes were much larger, and the scores have declined since the early 1960s.

Now, public school teachers are scamming taxpayers with their demands for "smaller class size" in order to create more jobs. Already, 80% of taxpayer dollars slated for education go to pay the salaries of teachers, administrators and consultants. Chicago-area private schools, which do a better job of educating students at half the cost of public schools, typically have had larger class sizes than Chicago's government schools. This is one of the reasons that private schools are less expensive to operate than government schools.

The call for smaller class size has nothing to do with better education. Smaller class size creates the need for more highly-paid warm bodies in classrooms. The teachers' lobby has succeeded in hoodwinking most legislators, taxpayers and editorial writers, with the result that there is a never-ending call for "smaller class size" that is totally unsupported by serious research. It has been a brilliant propaganda campaign.

Noted economist Eric Hanushek has shown that class size by itself is unimportant. Researcher David Kirkpatrick has found that students in other countries, who score better than U.S. students, typically have larger classes. The children of Vietnamese "boat people" in the 1970s have scored at the 95th percentile in mathematics in U.S. public schools - yet in Vietnam their average class size was 75. Students in South Korea have ranked first in math among 20 nations. The average class size there is 43 students.

Money for the teachers and administrators, not concern for students, is behind the drive to reduce class sizes. Economics professor Richard Vedder points out in his recent study entitled "Comparable Worth" that "currently there is no premium associated with taking on larger classes, so teacher unions fight for smaller classes."

Part of the savings associated with larger classes could be passed on in the form of additional pay for the teacher with larger classes. For example, the average teacher salary in the Chicago public schools is $53,000 for nine months' employment. A teacher whose class size doubled from 20 to 40 students could be given a bonus of $10,000, and the taxpayers would realize an average savings of $43,000.

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2004 issue of TaxNews, a publication of National Taxpayers United of Illinois, and is reprinted with permission.

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