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What is the Tradeoff Between Smaller Classes and Teacher Quality?


  • Christopher Jepsen
  • Steven Rivkin


This paper investigates the effects of California's class size reduction program on teacher quality and student achievement in an effort to gain a comprehensive understanding of the impact of a large-scale decrease in class size. It uses year-to-year differences in class size generated by natural variation in enrollment and the state's class size reduction program to identify both the direct effects of class size reduction and accompanying changes in teacher quality. The results show that, all else equal, smaller classes raise third-grade mathematics and reading achievement, particularly for lower-income students. However, the expansion of the teaching force required to staff the additional classrooms appears to have led to a deterioration in average teacher quality in schools serving a predominantly black student body. This deterioration partially or, in some cases, fully offset the benefits of smaller classes, demonstrating the importance of considering all implications of any policy change.

Suggested Citation

  • Christopher Jepsen & Steven Rivkin, 2002. "What is the Tradeoff Between Smaller Classes and Teacher Quality?," NBER Working Papers 9205, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:9205
    Note: ED

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Rodrigues, Clarissa Guimarães & Rios-Neto, Eduardo Luiz Gonçalves & de Xavier Pinto, Cristine Campos, 2013. "Changes in test scores distribution for students of the fourth grade in Brazil: A relative distribution analysis for the years 1997–2005," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 34(C), pages 227-242.
    2. Adel Ben Youssef & Mounir Dahmani, 2008. "The Impact of ICT on Student Performance in Higher Education: Direct Effects, Indirect Effects and Organisational Change," Post-Print halshs-00936560, HAL.
    3. Chris Ryan, 2017. "Secondary School Teacher Effects on Student Achievement in Australian Schools," Melbourne Institute Working Paper Series wp2017n11, Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, The University of Melbourne.
    4. Victor Lavy & Analia Schlosser, 2005. "Targeted Remedial Education for Underperforming Teenagers: Costs and Benefits," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 23(4), pages 839-874, October.
    5. Gilpin, Gregory A., 2012. "Teacher salaries and teacher aptitude: An analysis using quantile regressions," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 31(3), pages 15-29.
    6. Hatsor, Limor, 2012. "Occupational choice: Teacher quality versus teacher quantity," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 19(4), pages 608-623.
    7. Eric D. Gould & Victor Lavy & M. Daniele Paserman, 2009. "Does Immigration Affect the Long-Term Educational Outcomes of Natives? Quasi-Experimental Evidence," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 119(540), pages 1243-1269, October.
    8. Torberg Falch & Marte Rønning, 2007. "The Influence of Student Achievement on Teacher Turnover," Education Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 15(2), pages 177-202.
    9. Jepsen, Christopher, 2005. "Teacher characteristics and student achievement: evidence from teacher surveys," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 57(2), pages 302-319, March.
    10. Mueller, Steffen, 2013. "Teacher experience and the class size effect — Experimental evidence," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 98(C), pages 44-52.
    11. Will Dobbie & Roland G. Fryer, 2011. "Are High-Quality Schools Enough to Increase Achievement among the Poor? Evidence from the Harlem Children's Zone," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 3(3), pages 158-187, July.
    12. Ludger Wößmann, 2003. "European education production functions: what makes a difference for student achievement in Europe?," European Economy - Economic Papers 2008 - 2015 190, Directorate General Economic and Financial Affairs (DG ECFIN), European Commission.
    13. Thomas Dee & Martin West, 2008. "The Non-Cognitive Returns to Class Size," NBER Working Papers 13994, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    14. Fiona Steele & Anna Vignoles & Andrew Jenkins, 2007. "The effect of school resources on pupil attainment: a multilevel simultaneous equation modelling approach," Journal of the Royal Statistical Society Series A, Royal Statistical Society, vol. 170(3), pages 801-824.
    15. Gilpin, Gregory & Kaganovich, Michael, 2012. "The quantity and quality of teachers: Dynamics of the trade-off," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 96(3), pages 417-429.
    16. Bernal, Pedro & Mittag, Nikolas & Qureshi, Javaeria A., 2016. "Estimating effects of school quality using multiple proxies," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 39(C), pages 1-10.
    17. Gregory Gilpin & Michael Kaganovich, 2009. "The Quantity and Quality of Teachers: A Dynamic Trade-off," CESifo Working Paper Series 2516, CESifo Group Munich.
    18. Will Dobbie & Roland G. Fryer, Jr, 2009. "Are High Quality Schools Enough to Close the Achievement Gap? Evidence from a Social Experiment in Harlem," NBER Working Papers 15473, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    19. Daniel Aaronson & Lisa Barrow & William Sander, 2007. "Teachers and Student Achievement in the Chicago Public High Schools," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 25, pages 95-135.
    20. Kaoru Nabeshima, 2003. "Raising the quality of secondary education in East Asia," Policy Research Working Paper Series 3140, The World Bank.
    21. Luis Benveniste & Jeffery Marshall & Lucrecia Santibañez, 2007. "Teaching in Lao PDR," World Bank Other Operational Studies 7710, The World Bank.
    22. Roland G. Fryer, 2011. "Teacher Incentives and Student Achievement: Evidence from New York City Public Schools," NBER Working Papers 16850, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    23. Jonah Rockoff, 2003. "The Impact of Individual Teachers on Student Achievement: Evidence from Panel Data," Public Economics 0304002, EconWPA.
    24. Driscoll, Donna & Halcoussis, Dennis & Svorny, Shirley, 2008. "Gains in standardized test scores: Evidence of diminishing returns to achievement," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 27(2), pages 211-220, April.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • I2 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education
    • H4 - Public Economics - - Publicly Provided Goods

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