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Intraschool Variation in Class Size: Patterns and Implications


  • Michael Boozer
  • Cecilia Rouse


Economists attempting to explain the widening of the black-white wage gap in the late 1970's by differences in school quality have been faced with the problem that recent data reveal virtually no gap in the quality of schools attended by blacks and whites using a variety of measures. In this paper, we reexamine racial differences in school quality by considering the effects of using the pupil-teacher ratio, rather than the school's average class size,in an education production function since the pupil-teacher ratio is a rough proxy, at best. We find that while the pupil-teacher ratio and average class size are correlated, the pupil-teacher ratio is systematically less than or equal to the average class size. Part of the difference is due to intraschool allocation of teachers to classes. While the pupil-teacher ratio shows no black-white differences in class size, measures of the school's average class size suggest blacks are in larger classes. Also, the two measures lead to differing estimates of the role of class size in an education production function. We also conclude that school level measures may obscure important within-school variation in class size due to the small class sizes for compensatory education and a kind of aggregation bias results. Not only are blacks in schools with larger average class sizes but they are also in larger classes within schools, conditional on class type. The intraschool class size patterns suggest that using within-school variation in education production functions is not a good solution to aggregation problems due to non-random assignment of students to different sized classes. But once the selection problem has been addressed,smaller classes at the 8th grade lead to larger test score gains from 8th to 10th grade and differences in class size can explain approximately 15% of the black-white gap in educational achievement.

Suggested Citation

  • Michael Boozer & Cecilia Rouse, 1995. "Intraschool Variation in Class Size: Patterns and Implications," NBER Working Papers 5144, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:5144
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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. David Card & Alan B. Krueger, 1994. "The Economic Return to School Quality: A Partial Survey," Working Papers 713, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
    2. David Card & Alan B. Krueger, 1992. "School Quality and Black-White Relative Earnings: A Direct Assessment," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 107(1), pages 151-200.
    3. Eric A. Hanushek, 1979. "Conceptual and Empirical Issues in the Estimation of Educational Production Functions," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 14(3), pages 351-388.
    4. repec:fth:prinin:334 is not listed on IDEAS
    5. Flyer, Fredrick & Rosen, Sherwin, 1997. "The New Economics of Teachers and Education," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 15(1), pages 104-139, January.
    6. K. Newey, Whitney, 1985. "Generalized method of moments specification testing," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 29(3), pages 229-256, September.
    7. Michael A. Boozer & Alan B. Krueger & Shari Wolkon, 1992. "Race and School Quality Since Brown vs. Board of Education," Working Papers 681, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
    8. Neal, Derek A & Johnson, William R, 1996. "The Role of Premarket Factors in Black-White Wage Differences," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 104(5), pages 869-895, October.
    9. Grogger, Jeff, 1996. "Does School Quality Explain the Recent Black/White Wage Trend?," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 14(2), pages 231-253, April.
    10. David Card & Alan Krueger, 1994. "The Economic Return to School Quality: A Partial Survey," Working Papers 713, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
    11. Smith, James P & Welch, Finis R, 1989. "Black Economic Progress after Myrdal," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 27(2), pages 519-564, June.
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    Cited by:

    1. Patrick Mason, 1997. "Race, culture, and skill: Interracial wage differences among African Americans, Latinos, and whites," The Review of Black Political Economy, Springer;National Economic Association, vol. 25(3), pages 5-39, March.
    2. Mason, Patrick L., 1997. "Race, culture, and skill: interracial wage differentials among African Americans, Latinos, and whites," MPRA Paper 11329, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    3. Urquiola, Miguel, 2001. "Identifying class size effects in developing countries : evidence from rural schools in Bolivia," Policy Research Working Paper Series 2711, The World Bank.
    4. Michael Hout & Richard Arum & Kim Voss, 1996. "The political economy of inequality in the “age of extremes”," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 33(4), pages 421-425, November.
    5. Steven G. Rivkin & Eric A. Hanushek & John F. Kain, 2005. "Teachers, Schools, and Academic Achievement," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 73(2), pages 417-458, March.
    6. De Paola, Maria & Scoppa, Vincenzo, 2009. "Effects of Class Size on Achievement of College Students," MPRA Paper 16945, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    7. Deke, John, 2003. "A study of the impact of public school spending on postsecondary educational attainment using statewide school district refinancing in Kansas," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 22(3), pages 275-284, June.
    8. Joshua D. Angrist & Victor Lavy, 1997. "Using Maimonides' Rule to Estimate the Effect of Class Size on Student Achievement," NBER Working Papers 5888, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

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    JEL classification:

    • J0 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - General

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