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A new book released by the Economic Policy Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank in Washington, D.C., captures the debate over the effectiveness of programs to reduce class size. The book, The Class Size Debate, edited by Richard Rothstein and Lawrence Mishel, features Princeton University economist Alan Krueger’s research showing that those in smaller classes not only exhibit enhanced academic achievement but also improved future earnings potential. Krueger argues that there are flaws in research demonstrating that class size reduction has no effect on student achievement.

In another chapter, Stanford University Professor Eric Hanushek, argues that the benefits of reducing class size are so small that it is not worth the investment. University of Maryland Professor Jennifer King Rice discusses the implications of the class size debate for policymakers.

The effectiveness of smaller class size is an important issue as states decide whether to continue spending over $2.3 billion on reducing class size. The federal government has also contributed to the effort: The Class Size Reduction Program, established in 1998, allocated more than $1 billion a year to states in order to help recruit and train teachers in an effort to lower class size to 18 students in the early grades. For fiscal 2002, the Class-Size Reduction Program was incorporated into the new ESEA Title II Teacher Quality block grant which allows states and school districts to use any portion of Title II funds to hire qualified teachers to reduce class size, among other purposes.

At the same time that money is flowing into class size reduction programs, 21 states that use the programs are suffering from large budget shortfalls that could jeopardize their efforts. States such as Indiana are reporting positive results in student performance, yet face crunches that could affect class size reform in the future.

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