Few education reforms make as much sense on a gut level as giving teachers fewer students to teach.
The idea is popular with parents and politicians alike — at least 40 states have carried out some kind of class-size reduction in the past 15 years — and the Legislature in Washington has pledged to reduce average class sizes in kindergarten through third grade to 17 students by the fall of 2017.
Initiative 1351 on the Nov. 4 ballot would go even further, lowering average class sizes to 25 for grades four through 12 in Washington’s schools (with smaller sizes for schools where the majority of students come from low-income families).
According to the latest federal data based on teacher surveys, the average class size is 24 in the state’s elementary schools and 30 in secondary schools.
But despite more than four decades of research in the U.S. and abroad, the effects of this simple idea about how to raise student achievement have been hard to isolate and measure, leading to academic squabbles over its value.