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Fact check: Obama supports smaller classes in public schools

October 22, 2012|By Howard Blume

President Obama correctly noted a rhetorical difference between himself and his challenger. The president has publicly supported the concept of reducing the size of classes in the nation’s public schools. And he pointed out that Romney has not embraced the concept of small classes.

“Teachers will tell you it does make a difference,” Obama said.

The president has correctly characterized the former governor’s position, and Romney, to be sure, has not run from this view. Romney has noted that he supports the idea of such decisions being made at the state level, if at all. There’s also some research to support his reluctance to fund smaller classes at the federal level.

Some researchers have concluded, in fact, that smaller class sizes do too little to enhance student achievement considering the cost. They note, in part, that students may benefit more from having a master teacher reach more students in a larger class than hiring an additional, less-effective teacher.

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Like other questions in education, the  issue has many facets. Few academics would ever argue that enormous classes are better than very small ones. The argument is more over whether a class of 15 makes a difference compared with a class of 20, or whether a class of 22 is that different in results from a class of 30, for example.

Lowering class sizes remains popular with teachers, their union leaders and many parents. And a smaller class could be especially helpful for a new teacher. For high school teachers, the total number of students may matter more than the number in any one class. Some secondary teachers are responsible for more than 200 students per semester, making it difficult to assign and evaluate student writing, for example.

Rhetoric aside, Obama has not accomplished much to lower class sizes. But his stimulus funds to education preserved more than 150,000 education jobs for at least two years, which arguably prevented class-size increases.

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