Florida’s Class Size Amendment: Did it help students learn?

Paul Peterson:

If a state mandates that every school reduce class sizes, will students learn more? Since reducing class size is very expensive, that is a question state legislatures are asking themselves at a time when fiscal deficits are looming nearly everywhere. To that question, a just released study of the Florida Class Size Amendment says “No.” Telling schools they must reduce class size yields no benefit, it reports.
Florida is an interesting place to explore this issue, because students there have been improving at a faster rate than any other state in the union, according to Matt Ladner at the Goldwater Institute. Using data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, Ladner shows that student performance in 4th and 8th grade reading and math has leaped forward in Florida while it has remained stagnant in many other states.
Some have attributed the spectacular Florida gains to the state’s accountability system, its Just Read initiative, or the state’s school choice programs. But others have attributed the Florida gains to an amendment to the Florida Constitution, adopted by the voters in 2002, which requires every school district to reduce its average class size. To fulfill the purposes of the amendment, the Florida state legislature has in recent years allocated state funds that must be used for class size reduction in those districts not yet at the limit. The remaining districts have received comparable amounts to be used for any educational purpose they see fit.