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Field Experiments in Class Size from the Early Twentieth Century

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  • Jonah Rockoff
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    Abstract

    A vast majority of adults believe that class size reductions are a good way to improve the quality of public schools. Reviews of the research literature, on the other hand, have provided mixed messages on the degree to which class size matters for student achievement. Here I will discuss a substantial, but overlooked, body of experimental work on class size that developed prior to World War II. These field experiments did not have the benefit of modern econometrics, and only a few were done on a reasonably large scale. However, they often used careful empirical designs, and the collective magnitude of this body of work is considerable. Moreover, this research produced little evidence to suggest that students learn more in smaller classes, which stands in contrast to some, though not all, of the most recent work by economists. In this essay, I provide an overview of the scope and breadth of the field experiments in class size conducted prior to World War II, the motivations behind them, and how their experimental designs were crafted to deal with perceived sources of bias. I discuss how one might interpret the findings of these early experimental results alongside more recent research.

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    Bibliographic Info

    Article provided by American Economic Association in its journal Journal of Economic Perspectives.

    Volume (Year): 23 (2009)
    Issue (Month): 4 (Fall)
    Pages: 211-30

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    Handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:23:y:2009:i:4:p:211-30

    Note: DOI: 10.1257/jep.23.4.211
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    1. Moulton, Brent R., 1986. "Random group effects and the precision of regression estimates," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 32(3), pages 385-397, August.
    2. Leuven, Edwin & Oosterbeek, Hessel & Rønning, Marte, 2008. "Quasi-Experimental Estimates of the Effect of Class Size on Achievement in Norway," IZA Discussion Papers 3474, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
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    4. Alan B. Krueger, 2000. "Economic Considerations and class size," Working Papers 975, Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Center for Research on Child Wellbeing..
    5. Lisa Barrow & Lisa Markman & Cecilia Elena Rouse, 2009. "Technology's Edge: The Educational Benefits of Computer-Aided Instruction," American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, American Economic Association, vol. 1(1), pages 52-74, February.
    6. Hanushek, Eric A, 1986. "The Economics of Schooling: Production and Efficiency in Public Schools," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 24(3), pages 1141-77, September.
    7. Wo[ss]mann, Ludger & West, Martin, 2006. "Class-size effects in school systems around the world: Evidence from between-grade variation in TIMSS," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 50(3), pages 695-736, April.
    8. Alan Krueger, 1997. "Experimental Estimates of Education Production Functions," Working Papers 758, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
    9. Steven D. Levitt & John A. List, 2007. "What Do Laboratory Experiments Measuring Social Preferences Reveal About the Real World?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 21(2), pages 153-174, Spring.
    10. David Neumark & Roy J. Bank & Kyle D. Van Nort, 1995. "Sex Discrimination in Restaurant Hiring: An Audit Study," NBER Working Papers 5024, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    11. Marianne Bertrand & Sendhil Mullainathan, 2003. "Are Emily and Greg More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination," NBER Working Papers 9873, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    12. Edward Miguel & Michael Kremer, 2004. "Worms: Identifying Impacts on Education and Health in the Presence of Treatment Externalities," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 72(1), pages 159-217, 01.
    13. Joshua D. Angrist & Victor Lavy, 1999. "Using Maimonides' Rule To Estimate The Effect Of Class Size On Scholastic Achievement," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 114(2), pages 533-575, May.
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    Cited by:
    1. Andrew Leigh & Chris Ryan, 2011. "Long-Run Trends in School Productivity: Evidence from Australia," Education Finance and Policy, MIT Press, vol. 6(1), pages 105-135, January.
    2. Stephen Gibbons & Sandra McNally, 2013. "The Effects of Resources Across School Phases: A Summary of Recent Evidence," CEP Discussion Papers dp1226, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
    3. Gerald Eisenkopf & Zohal Hessami & Urs Fischbacher & Heinrich Ursprung, 2011. "Academic Performance and Single-Sex Schooling: Evidence from a Natural Experiment in Switzerland," TWI Research Paper Series 69, Thurgauer Wirtschaftsinstitut, Universität Konstanz.
    4. Dirk Schindler & Guttorm Schjelderup, 2011. "Debt Shifting and Ownership Structure," Working Paper Series of the Department of Economics, University of Konstanz 2011-35, Department of Economics, University of Konstanz.
    5. Chingos, Matthew M., 2012. "The impact of a universal class-size reduction policy: Evidence from Florida's statewide mandate," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 31(5), pages 543-562.
    6. Matthew M. Chingos & Kenneth A. Couch, 2013. "Class Size and Student Outcomes: Research and Policy Implications," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 32(2), pages 411-438, 03.

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