America's education system is in decline. As America continues to fall in international rankings, many have turned to simple answers like reducing class sizes in order to boost educational achievement. Yet, for our great investment, students, parents, and policymakers are asking themselves an important question: where has the promise of class size reduction taken us? Sadly, the answer is not far. Although all but 15 states embraced some type of class size reduction policy in 2010, data indicate that current policies have not been the antidote to our educational sickness. The reason that class size reform hasn't delivered expected results is actually quite simple: reforms have not been tailored to the right groups.
So what we do we know about class size reduction? We know that it works in targeted areas. The most commonly cited evidence for proponents of class size reduction has been the Tennessee STAR program. The program found that low-income students who saw class sizes reduced from 22 to 25 students to 13 to 17 performed better on standardized tests. Policymakers presumed this to mean that class size reduction worked miracles in all instances, although that is not the case. The solution to this is easy: reduce class size when doing so has been shown to work empirically -- in low-income areas as well as for special needs students.
We also know that decreasing class size results in an increase in the demand for teachers. An increase in the quantity of teachers needed amplifies the concern among many Americans that teacher quality is already sub-par. Therefore, in order to be effective, any class size reduction measure must be coupled with a complimentary measure for increasing teacher quality to offset the decrease in teacher quality. Complexities in the debate over class size is just one of many reasons why education needs comprehensive legislative reform. Fortunately, experts point out that by increasing salaries and benefits for teachers, we will incentivize quality and allow effective implementation of class size reduction policies.
These are the policies of Six PAC -- a youth-led movement to bring students to the table of education reform (positions may be found at www.sixpac.org/solutions). After it was founded in 2011, Six PAC went public in April 2012 and has been growing ever since. Six PAC endorses meaningful teacher quality reform, as well as class size reduction where it has been proven to work.
By getting students more involved in the reform process, Six PAC fills a unique niche in American politics. In a country where people under the legal voting age lack the ability to shape the policies that shape their futures, Six PAC provides a medium of influence. After all, it is children, not parents and certainly not politicians, who are in schools every day. They are acutely aware of both its strengths and its shortcomings; adding their voice to the conversation on reform is imperative.
Our education system needs to adapt if America is to remain strong, but steps required to keep America globally competitive are not being taken. Children are the guarantors of America's future -- a strong American economy is contingent upon a creative and versatile American workforce. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development stated in its 2010 report, "The High Cost of Low Educational Performance," that if the United States were to increase scores on the Programme for International Student Assessment exams by 25 points, the U.S. could experience $40 trillion of GDP expansion over the lifetime of the 2010 generation. The price is high, but the benefits are astronomical.
Americans are left with a stark choice on education, on our future. We can either maintain our current, broken system, and see our economic competitiveness continue to decline, or we can embrace the reforms that Six PAC and other organizations suggest to make our educational system work for our students. Some may ask how the United States can afford to make such reforms. However, Six PAC poses a different question: how can we afford not to?
Six PAC is a political action committee founded by six students across the United States in
2011. After going public on April 23, 2012, they have actively been involved in the education reform movement. For more information, visit www.sixpac.org, and www.facebook.com/SixPoliticalAction.