In recent articles, we have pointed out that Washington state is 46th in the nation in school funding as a percent of income. Washington state is also 46th in the nation in class sizes. It would take several billion dollars per year in additional funding to restore Washington state to the national average in school funding. One of the goals of restoring national average school funding is that it would allow us to hire tens of thousands of teachers needed to lower class sizes in Washington state down to the national average.
Sadly, there are many misleading claims made by those who oppose restoring school funding to the national average. For example, some claim that class sizes are not that high in Washington state. Others claim that reducing class sizes would not help improve student outcomes. In this article, we will clarify how to properly measure class size. We will then compare class sizes to other states and other nations. Finally, we will summarize the research on the significant long term benefits of lower class sizes.
Why Actual Class Sizes are Much Larger Than Student to Teacher Ratios
The most common mistake made when discussing class size is to confuse class sizes with Student to Teacher Ratios. The Student to Reacher Ratio is determined by dividing the total number of students in a school or a state by the total number of professional staff at the school or the state. For example, if you go to the Washington State OSPI website and click on Apportionment, then Publications, then Personnel Summary Reports, then select a year, then click on Table 46, you will get a report called “Ratio of Students to Classrooms.” This is actually the Student to Teacher Ratio. For the 2014 school year, this ratio was 18.2 students per teacher. http://k12.wa.us/safs/PUB/PER/1415/tbl46.pdf
This type of statistic might mislead one into believing that the class sizes in Washington state are only 18 students – which would mean Washington state has the lowest class sizes in the nation and in the world. Yet if you walk into any real classroom at any real school in Washington state and count the actual students, you will see about 30 students in the real classroom. Many classrooms will have 35 to even 40 students! Why is there such a huge difference between the Student to Teacher ratio reported by OSPI and the number of students in real classrooms? The problem is that OSPI uses an extremely broad definition for classroom teacher. Many so-called classroom teachers are actually administrators and counselors. Using Student to Teacher ratios therefore misleads the public and even legislators into thinking that class sizes are not that bad when in fact class sizes in Washington state are among the highest in the nation.
A better estimate of classroom teachers comes from a national survey of classroom teachers in which teachers are asked how many students are in their average classroom. This survey indicates that for Grades 1 through 6, the national average class size is 21 students and the average class size in Washington state is 24 students. For Grades 7 through 12, the national average class size is 27 students and the average class size in Washington state is 30 students. http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d13/tables/dt13_209.30.asp
Here is a distribution of class sizes showing which states have low, average, above average or extremely high class sizes:
However, even this survey of teachers under-reports the actual class sizes in the nation and in Washington state because it includes Special Education teachers who often have classes of under 10 students. Excluding Special Education classes, the typical or median class size in the US is likely close to 29 students and in Washington state, it is likely close to 32 students.
Even within Washington state, there is a wide range of school funding and class sizes. For example, the Snoqualmie Valley School District in East King County is funded at a rate that is 10% below the state average. This results in class sizes in the Snoqualmie Valley School District being about 10% above the state average. It is not uncommon to have classes of 35 to 40 students – with some classes climbing as high as 100 students!
If the Class Size Initiative 1351 were fully funded, it would lower class sizes in Washington state down to 17 students in elementary school and 25 students in high school. However, even this would still be considered a high class size in many developed nations. For example, in Finland, the average class size for both elementary and secondary school is 20 students per class. http://www.oecd.org/edu/skills-beyond-school/48631144.pdf
Why are there conflicting claims about the benefits of small class sizes?
It should seem obvious that student to teacher interaction would improve with smaller class sizes. This benefit show be most obvious with struggling students who would be more likely to get the help they need to catch up with their peers.
Yet despite the importance of this topic, there has been only one large scale double blind scientific study comparing smaller to larger classes. This was the STAR study involving nearly 12,000 students in Tennessee from 1985 to 1989. Elementary school students at 79 elementary schools were randomly assigned to either a small class of 13 to 17 students or a normal size class of 22 to 26 students beginning in Kindergarten and continuing through 3rd Grade. This study confirmed that smaller classes helped students and especially low income and minority students in a variety of important ways with benefits that lasted all the way through high school and into adult life. We will discuss this study in a moment.
Sadly, numerous so-called experts have the audacity to claim that small classes would not help students! For example, a report for the Washington state legislature in 2007 concluded that smaller class sizes were not worth the added expense above the 3rd Grade. http://leg.wa.gov/Senate/Committees/EDU/Documents/BensCosts_EdPolicies.pdf
The problem with this study is that it gave equal weight to 38 studies – none of which were large scale random studies. In addition, the metric being used to determine whether smaller classes were effective was high stakes test scores. These test scores are based on tests that are known to be unfair, unreliable, invalid and a complete waste of time and money. In sort, the conclusion that small class sizes does not matter is based on junk science. Other educational outcomes such as student engagement, teacher grades and graduation rates are much more reliable than test scores.
Academic Benefits of Smaller Class Sizes
Smaller classes meant that teachers were better able to give individual attention o struggling students. Students in smaller classes learned to engage confidently with their teachers in asking questions to get help they needed. This success and confidence carried all the way through high school – many years after the experiment in smaller classes ended and the students were returned to normal classes.
As the following chart shows, low income students who were lucky enough to have four full years of smaller classes were much more likely to graduate than their peers who only had zero to three years in the smaller class sizes:
Source: Finn, J. D., et. al. (2005). Small Classes in the Early Grades, Academic Achievement, and Graduating From High School. Journal of Educational Psychology.
Economic Benefits of Smaller Class Sizes
A 2011 study summarizing the life academic and economic outcomes of students in smaller classes in the STAR study compared to their peers who had normal class sizes found that “The effects of class quality fade out on test scores in later grades but gains in non-cognitive measures persist.” Put in plain English, high stakes test scores are not an accurate predictor of future student performance. However, student engagement is. Here are just some of the adult outcomes for these students 20 years later of being in a smaller class in elementary school: Students were significantly more likely to graduate from high school, attend college, start a savings account, buy a home, get married and stay married. Students were less likely to commit a crime or go to prison. Much of this information was obtained from federal tax returns of 95% of the nearly 12,000 students involved in the study.
Source: Chetty, R., Friedman, J.N., Hilger, N., Saez, E., Schanzenbach, D.W., & Yagan D. (2011). How does your kindergarten classroom affect your earnings? Evidence from Project STAR. Quarterly Journal of Economics, 126(4), 1593-1660.
In a separate analysis, Alan Krueger, Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, estimated that every dollar invested in reducing class sizes yielded about $2 in long term economic benefits. https://etec511.wikispaces.com/file/view/economic+considerations+and+class+size.pdf
Conclusion… Smaller Classes Lead to More Successful Students
Wealthy private schools understand the importance of small class size. For example, at Lakeside Private School in Seattle, average class sizes are 16 students. http://www.lakesideschool.org/aboutus
If class sizes of 16 students is considered ideal for the children of the wealthy, these class sizes should also be available to all students in Washington state.
Given the huge academic and economic benefits of smaller class sizes, it is appalling that the Washington state legislature continues to deprive our public schools of adequate funding and deprive our students of the reasonable class sizes they need and deserve. In does not have to be this way. Senate Bill 6093 would increase school funding above the national average and lower class sizes below the national average merely by repealing a 1997 tax break used by billionaires to avoid paying their fair share of state taxes. In the next article, we will review how many new schools and classrooms would be needed to restore national average class sizes here in Washington state. We will then look at how to build a grassroots campaign for passing Senate Bill 6093 here in Washington state.
Originally published at Coalition to Protect Our Public Schools
It’s a good time to talk about money, who has it and who doesn’t, especially with the Legislature at loggerheads about the budget. Why? Because the taxes that fund our state’s budget come largely from the money we all spend.
Notice I said “money we all spend,” not “money we all make”? In most other states, taxes come from money people make, whether by working for a paycheck or watching the stock market go up, but not here. Half of our state’s revenue comes from sales taxes. So in Washington, when we spend less on taxable goods, state revenue for things like higher education and K-12 education takes a dive.
The years 2001 to 2011 were an excellent demonstration of this. Our state’s general fund revenues fell from more than $6,000 per capita to $4,000. How did we make up the difference? By shorting our kids — and by extension, our collective future. We now are 46th among the 50 states for K-12 investment as a percent of personal income. We increased tuition at the UW from $5,000 to more than $12,000. We starved public parks, closing some and running the rest on a shoestring.
This is no way to keep up with the demands of a 21st-century economy that depends on things produced by the government, like transit, roads, parks, and, yes, an educated citizenry.
Taxable retail sales — that is, the tax you pay when you buy pants at Fred Meyer — have plummeted in the past two decades, as a percent of total state income. Such sales used to equal more than 50 percent of total GDP in our state; now they make up about one third. Consumer spending by people between the ages of 35 and 55, who should be at the height of earnings and family expenditures, actually dropped between 1989 and now by $7,500 (adjusting for inflation).
We can’t run public services on a stream of revenue that is turning into a trickle. So where can we find the revenue for public services? We simply need to follow the money. Seattle, Bellevue and the rest of the Eastside have one of the biggest concentrations of six-figure households in the country. When we consider seven and eight figure incomes, we are near the top… of the world.
But we in Washington don’t tap into any of that income, and not by accident or act of nature. The celebration and enhancement of the wealthy while public services for the vast majority of citizens are starved is the result of quite clear public policy. One result of these decisions is the pulling apart of the middle class, with the majority of families falling down the income ladder, and a small minority rising up. And with the shrinking of public services, we have effectively pulled the rungs out from under the people falling down the income ladder to climb back up.
Just-released IRS data shows that for the top 1,000 households in the U,S,, income doubled from about $80 million in 2003 to more than $160 million in 2012 (these figures are inflation-adjusted). Families between 97 percent and 98 percent of the income pile saw their income go up $23,000 to $253,000. Families between 80 percent and 90 percent got a $647 gain. But for all taxpayers below the 80 percent threshold — making up 4 out of every 5 families, income fell. For families in the bottom 50 percent, their average income fell almost 20 percent, by more than $3,000.
In our state, the 30,000 families at the top of the income heap contribute very little of their income — 2.4 percent — to help finance the state’s schools, colleges, mental health facilities, the State Patrol or our court system — while the middle class contributes 10 percent and families under $20,000 contribute 17 percent, primarily via sales taxes.
The choice confronting all of us (because the legislators are very likely to kick the can down the road for another year) is a moral one: Do we invest in our state, our children, our infrastructure, and our future — or do we allow this fiscal crisis just to grind us down? So far, it has been grinding us down. But when we consider that democracy is supposed to present opportunity for all of us, it makes sense to tax some of the wealthiest in our state (and, indeed, the world) to finance a stronger future for everyone.
Original: Everett Herald »
On June 2, 2015, the US Census released the latest in a series of annual reports called Public Education Finances. These reports are issued about 2 years after the school year they are reporting on. So this latest report is for the 2013 school year. These annual reports can be difficult to find. So at the end of this article, I have provided 15 links to all 15 years of reports I used to create the following chart. Here is the link to the latest report for 2013:
The above chart is based on Table 12, Column 6 of each of the annual reports since 1996. There are some rather startling things about this chart. First, it shows that Washington state school funding as a percent of income plunged rather dramatically between the years 2011 and 2013. This is despite a court order and a commitment by the legislature to increase school funding. As of 2013, Washington spent 3.1 percent of income on pubic schools. In 1996, Washington State spent 4.3 percent of income on public schools which is also about the national average (which is the blue line in the chart above). The difference between 3.1 percent and 4.3 percent is about one to two billion dollars per year. The above chart does not include school construction and repair funding like some of my past charts. Had this been included, the total national average spending would have risen to about 5% of income and the total difference between Washington state and the national average would be about $2 to $3 billion per year.
Add in the one billion per year that is unconstitutionally being spent on Basic Education by local school districts through local levies and the total State funding shortfall to comply with the Supreme Court order is $3 to $4 billion per year or $3,000 to $4,000 per pupil per year. (This is also the conclusion of the attorneys for the NEWS Coalition McLeary lawsuit). This is also about the cost to fully fund Initiative 1351 passed by the voters in 2014 and currently being ignored by the State legislature in 2015.
Why is the historical national average funding level of 4.3% important?
I want to be clear that when I am referring to national average school funding, I am not referring to the shockingly low level of national funding that occurred between2011 and 2013. 3.7 Percent is simply a sign that there is something deeply wrong with our entire nation right now. 4.3 Percent of income (or 5% of income when adding in school construction and repair funding) is important for several reasons. First, it is impossible to have national average class sizes without national average school funding. Smaller class sizes in turn are related to higher graduation rates because struggling students are more likely to get the help they need to pass courses. National average funding is important for another reason as students in Washington state will have to compete with students from other states to get into a good college. It is unfair to for our students to be subjected to some of the lowest school funding and highest class sizes in the nation as it will adversely affect their entire future. Finally, the historical national average reflects the combined wisdom of legislatures all across America over a period of many years. In fact, it had been a very stable measure until 2011 when it suddenly dropped from 4.3% of income to 3.7% of income. To understand how shocking this drop was, using Washington state as an average sized state, this drop would represent about one billion dollars per state. Multiple this times 50 states and the drop in just two years was close to $50 billion dollars per year in school funding that has been diverted to some other use and is no longer going to public schools.
How does Washington State School Funding Compare to a State with a Similar Economy?
Because Washington state has a stronger economy than most states, what is more appropriate than just the national average is to compare Washington state to an economically similar state such as New York. The difference between Washington state and the State of New York (the green line in the chart above) is about $8 billion per year – or $8,000 per pupil per year. All of this makes the $600 per pupil per year kicked in by the Washington State legislature this year look pretty pathetic. It does not even cover the cuts to school funding made in Washington state in recent years.
Look closely at the Washington state line (the red line in the chart above) and you will see two plunges. The first occurred between 1997 and 2000 and the second occurred between 2011 and 2013. In another article, we will discuss the 1997 to 2000 plunge (which was related to a 1997 tax break for the rich). Notice that the 1997 plunge happened only in Washington state and did not affect the rest of the nation or the state of New York which actually spent more on public schools at the same time Washington state was gutting funding for public schools.
Here, we will look at the most recent plunge in school funding as this plunge is likely still occurring. Look closely at the circle on the right side of the above chart and you will see that this new plunge in school funding is not just happening in Washington state. It is happening in the national average of all states and it is happening in New York. This means that there is a major national problem that began or got worse in about 2011.
Here is my explanation: The income of the super wealthy and major corporations has been skyrocketing since 2011 with record profits going to a few billionaires. But thanks to the billions of dollars in tax exemptions, these billionaires are not paying any taxes on all of this new wealth and therefore there is no money to fund the public schools. I will supply more evidence to support this theory in my next article showing that there has been a very sharp rise in the wealth of billionaires in the past few years. But first we need to understand how the above chart is different from other charts you may have seen on school funding here in Washington state.
Why Use “Percent of Income” for School Funding Rather than “Per Pupil Cost”
Billionaires and their political agents in Olympia love to fool us with charts showing that Per Pupil funding for public schools has gone up in Washington state almost every year. After all, it went up $600 per pupil this year. So there is no school funding problem right? Why is everyone complaining?
There are at least four major problems with using a simple Per Pupil chart to compare school funding from one year to the next or to compare school funding in one state to another state. First, Per Pupil funding completely ignores the rising cost of living and expenses such as food, transportation, health care and everything else from one year to the next. You can increase Per Pupil funding by 4% per year. But if the real inflation rate is 5% per year, then there was a one percent reduction in school funding not a four percent increase. This is just simple math. But apparently the legislature has a hard time understanding this – or maybe they just want to pretend that inflation does not exist.
Second, Per Pupil funding ignores the cost differences from one state to another state. The dollar goes a lot farther in states with a lower cost of living than it does in states with a higher cost of living.
Third, some states have a better economy than other states. States like Washington and New York have a better economy than other states because both of these states have major ports and a lot of wealthy people. It is easier to raise revenue in a state with a good economy and that is perhaps the most important reason to use Percent of Income (Table 12 in the annual education reports) rather than Per Pupil spending (Table 11 in the annual education reports).
Fourth, per pupil funding is not related to class sizes – but school funding as a percent of income is related to class sizes and class sizes are what really matter to the future of our students. For example, in the latest report, Washington state is 29th in the nation in school funding using the misleading “Per Pupil” funding. But Washington is 46th in the nation using the more accurate “Percent of Income” funding. According to the National Center for Education Statistics Schools and Staffing Survey (Table 8), Washington State has the third highest class sizes in the nation for elementary school, the second highest class sizes in the nation for middle school and the second highest class sizes in the nation for high school. http://nces.ed.gov/surveys/sass/tables/sass1112_2013314_t1s_007.asp
Only after doing the calculations as Percent of Income is it appropriate to convert the numbers to Per Pupil funding. As just one example, a difference of one percent of income converts roughly to one billion dollars per year in Washington state. (In New York, one percent of income would be a completely different number). Because Washington has one million students, one billion dollars per year converts into $1,000 per pupil per year.
This is a far more accurate method of telling how far Washington state is below the national average than just using Per Pupil costs which ignore all of the above factors. For example, Table 11 of the latest education funding report claims that national average Per Pupil funding is only $10,700 and Washington state Per Pupil funding $9,672 – only about $1,000 per pupil below the national average per pupil funding. This would lead to the erroneous conclusion that it would only take one billion dollars per year to restore school funding in Washington state to the national average.
At the same time, Per Pupil funding in New York is $19,818. School funding in Washington state is more than $10,000 per pupil less than school funding in a comparable state. It would take more than $10 billion per year (or $20 billion per biennium) to bring school funding in Washington state up to the same level as per pupil funding in New York state! This is why School funding as a Percent of Income is much more accurate than Per Pupil School Funding.
Why Current Education Spending is More Accurate than Education Revenue
Within Table 12 on the Education Funding reports, there are two options. You can use Column 1 which is “Education Revenue as a percent of income” – or you can use “Current Education Spending as a percent of income.” In the past, I have used Education Revenue. However, I now realize that was a mistake. The problem with revenue is that State legislatures and particularly the Washington state legislature has gotten very good at budget tricks to make it look like they are increasing school funding when in fact they are gutting school funding. For example, one trick was to transfer a couple hundred million dollars from the school construction account to the school operating budget account. They then claimed that they increased school funding by $200 million when it was really robbing Peter to pay Paul.
The revenue bait and switch games and creative accounting tricks have gotten so ridiculous in Olympia (and probably other state legislatures) that it became apparent that the only solution was to change my charts to Table 12 Column 6 – which is actual current school spending as a percent of income. This means the money that was actually spent on schools hiring teachers and buying books and all the other stuff that goes into a school. It is much harder to play games with the actual money because the actual money was actually spent and can be accounted for. This yields a slightly different chart than my past charts. But I think it will be more accurate moving forward. It will not matter what crazy games the legislature tries to pull. We will simply track the amount of money schools actually spend in the current year.
This is all we have time for in this report. In my next article, I will explain why school funding in Washington state plunged by billions of dollars per year between 1997 to 2002 and how Senate Bill 6093 can help us get these billions of dollars per year back simply be altering a 1997 tax break for the rich. Below are the links to the reports that were used to create the graph in this article.
David Spring M. ED.
Director Coalition to Protect our Public Schools
spring for schools (at) aol (dot) com
Public Education Finances 2013 was released on June 2 2015
Public Education Finances 2012 was released on June 1 2014
Public Education Finances 2011 was released on June 1 2013
Public Education Finances 2013 was released on June 2 2015
Public Education Finances 2012 was released on June 1 2014
Public Education Finances 2011 was released on June 1 2013
Public Education Finances 2010 was released on June 1 2012
Public Education Finances 2009 was released on June 1 2011
Public Education Finances 2008 was released on June 1 2010
Public Education Finances 2007 was released on May 2009
Public Education Finances 2006 was issued on April 2008
Public Education Finances 2005 was issued on April 2007
Public Education Finances 2004 was issued on April 2006
Public Education Finances 2003 was issued on March 2005
Public Education Finances 2002 was issued on April 2004
Public Education Finances 2001 was issued on April 2003
Public Education Finances 2000 was issued on April 2002
Public Education Finances 1999 was issued on April 2001
Public Education Finances 1998 was issued on April 2000
Public Education Finances 1997 was issued on April 1999
Public Education Finances 1996 was issued on April 1998
Originally published at Coalition to Our Public Schools