In teaching math, few benefits in small classes

Even as the education establishment crusades for smaller class sizes in America's public schools, evidence is surfacing that students in such classes score only slightly better in math than students in larger classes.

Interestingly, for students in 10 nations abroad, small class size has the opposite or no effect on math scores, according to research released Sunday.

The findings, by Suet-ling Pong, an associate professor of education and sociology at Pennsylvania State University, come even as President Clinton is pushing a program to cut class size by hiring 100,000 more teachers for public schools in the US, and as California has spent billions of dollars to reduce class sizes in the first three elementary-school grades.

"The perception in the US is that small classes are better," Mr. Pong said in a statement. "While this [finding] is tentative support for reducing class size to promote higher achievement, the effect is very small. When we look at other countries, we do not find the same results."

Pong's research, released at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association here, found that in Australia, Flemish Belgium, and France, students in larger classes did significantly better in math than those in smaller classes.

CLASS size made little difference in math performance in Canada, Germany, Iceland, South Korea, and Singapore.

Large classes were defined as having between 19 and 29 students, while small classes had six to 18.

"There is some evidence in previous studies that small classes for kindergarten through third grade are beneficial," Pong said. "For eighth-grade math classes, we found that small is marginally better in the US, but we do not know why this differs from other countries." The study did not examine the effect of small class size on reading scores.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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