News Releases

Senator Murray Urges Senate to Invest in Smaller Classes

May 08 2001

Murray amendment would give schools the tools to help all students meet high standards. Murray cites research, offers example from Houston

(Washington, D.C.) -- Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) offered an amendment to the Senate education bill to dedicate $7.1 billion in funding to make classrooms less crowded. The Murray Amendment would continue the successful class size reduction initiative, which over the past three years has allowed schools to hire about 34,000 new teachers, and has reduced class sizes for about 2 million students nationwide.

"Too many teachers are spending time on crowd control instead of spending time on curriculum," Murray said. "My amendment would ensure that we keep our commitment to help local school districts hire 100,000 new teachers so that students can get the time and attention they need in the classroom."

"This program is a success story. Since 1998, we've helped school districts across the country hire about 34,000 new teachers. Over the past three years, we've made the classroom less crowded and more productive for almost 2 million students," Murray said. "As we update the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, we're creating a blueprint of how we're going to support excellence in schools across the country. As a parent and a former educator, I can't imagine smaller classes not being part of that blueprint."

For the past three years, federal education dollars have been targeted to class size reduction. The education bill being debated by the Senate, however, would combine funding for smaller classes and teacher quality into one funding stream. Murray's amendment would continue to dedicate funding specifically for class size.

"The underlying bill combines funding for class size reduction and teacher quality into one pool. As a result, local school districts would have to choose between providing smaller classes or funding teacher quality. They shouldn't have to choose one or the other. We should fund both," said Murray, a former school board member.

Research supporting smaller classes

Murray noted the scientific research showing that benefits of smaller classes include improving student achievement as well as producing long-term social benefits.

"The STAR Study found that students in small classes -- those with 13 to 17 students -- significantly outperformed other students in math and reading. It also found that students in small classes have better high school graduation rates, higher grade point averages, and they are more inclined to pursue higher education. Another study, the Wisconsin SAGE study consistently proved that smaller classes result in significantly greater student achievement."

"Dr. Alan Krueger of Princeton University found there are long-term social benefits of being in a smaller classroom, including: better scores on standardized tests, a higher propensity to take college entrance exams, a lower teen pregnancy rate, and possibly a lower crime rate for teens. Those are the types of benefits we want for all students," Murray continued.

Houston Example

Murray noted that the Houston Independent School District, where U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige served as superintendent, used smaller classes to turn around low-performing schools.

"Houston hired about 177 new teachers through the Class Size Reduction program. Houston also used the funding to provide professional development for more than 600 teachers. That's the type of support we want all communities to have," Murray said.

THE FULL TEXT OF SENATOR MURRAY'S REMARKS FOLLOWS:

REMARKS BY U.S. SENATOR PATTY MURRAY INTRODUCING HER CLASS SIZE AMENDMENT TO S.1

Mr. President, right now in schools across the country students are gathered in their classrooms. Right now, a teacher is beginning her lesson. Those students might not know the specifics of our debate here on the Senate floor. They might not be familiar with the amendment I'm about to offer. But I'll promise you one thing. Those students will feel the impact of how the Senate votes on this class size amendment.

Mr. President, today I am offering an amendment to continue our progress making classrooms across the country less crowded and more productive. My amendment will ensure that we keep our commitment to help local school districts hire 100,000 new teachers so that students can get the time and attention they need in the classroom.

We know that smaller classes help kids learn the basics with fewer discipline problems. Just this year, we learned that smaller classes also result in better scores on standardized tests, a higher likelihood of taking college entrance exams, and a lower teen pregnancy rate. As managers of federal education dollars, we should invest in the things that work, and we know smaller classes help students learn.

Mr. President, the underlying bill combines funding for class size reduction and teacher quality into one pool. As a result, local school districts would have to choose between providing smaller classes or funding teacher quality. They shouldn't have to choose one or the other. We should fund both.

It's always been important to invest in the things that work in the classroom. This year, it's even more important as I look at the rest of the underlying bill. Since President Bush plans to punish schools that don't improve, we've got to make sure that schools have the proven tools they need, like smaller classes, to help our children learn.

Mr. President, before I continue, I want share a personal reflection about what we're doing on education this month. As we update the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, we're creating a blueprint of how we're going to support excellence in schools across the country. As a parent and a former educator, I cannot imagine smaller classes not being part of that blueprint. It just doesn't make sense. Right now, this bill leaves behind targeted funding for smaller classes. My amendment corrects that failure and tells students, teachers, and parents across the country that we know they're concerned about overcrowded classrooms, we know they want help hiring new teachers, and we're going to honor our responsibility to pay for them.

I want to talk about the difference that smaller classes can make according to research and according to parents and teachers. We know that too many classrooms are overcrowded. With growing enrollment and limited space, too many students are trying to learn in classrooms that are packed to capacity -- where they have to fight just to get a teacher's attention. And too many teachers are spending time on crowd control instead of spending time on curriculum.

Over the years, major studies have found that smaller classes boost student achievement. The STAR Study found that students in small classes -- those with 13 to 17 students -- significantly outperformed other students in math and reading. It also found that students in small classes have better high school graduation rates, higher grade point averages, and they are more inclined to pursue higher education. Another study, the Wisconsin SAGE study consistently proved that smaller classes result in significantly greater student achievement.

Just a few months ago in March, we got more good news. Dr. Alan Krueger of Princeton University found there are long-term social benefits of being in a smaller classroom, including: better scores on standardized tests, a higher propensity to take college entrance exams, a lower teen pregnancy rate, and possibly a lower crime rate for teens. Those are the types of benefits we want for all students.

But you don't need research to know that smaller classes help. Just talk to parents, teachers and students. Mr. President, I've been in classrooms where this funding has reduced overcrowding, and it makes a difference. I received an email from Kristi Rennebohm Franz. Kristi teaches at Sunnyside Elementary School. I should also mention that Kristi is one of our best educators. She received a Milken National Teacher's Award, the Presidential Award for Excellence in Teaching Elementary Science, and the Peace Corps World Wise Schools Paul D. Coverdell Award for Excellence in Education. Those are some of Kristi's credentials. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent to have her entire letter printed in the record at the conclusion of my remarks. Ten years ago, when Kristi started as a teacher, she promised herself that she would take time each day to listen to her students and to understand their needs. Kristi writes: "It is a promise that can only come true if we have small enough classes with enough qualified teachers in place to meet the individual learning needs of each child."

She continues, "because of the sheer numbers of children in our classroom, it is not humanly possible to have the educational conversations I need and want to have with each child to best assess their understandings, struggles, challenges, and progress that can inform where the next day's learning needs to go."

She says, "I can't tell you how frustrating it is to know how to teach and not be able to do the very best teaching every moment because it is difficult with too large a class and without enough teachers on board as a team to meet the learning needs of the children."

Mr. President, let's show Kristi and thousands of hard-working teachers like her that we do support them and want them to be able to do there best in uncrowded classrooms. I've talked about the research and I've shared a teacher's perspective. I've got one more example of the importance of smaller classes.

It comes from the Houston Independent School District, where our Education Secretary Rod Paige served as superintendent. I want to show my colleagues this chart. It's from a presentation by the former chief of staff for educational services in the Houston district, Susan Sclafani. She currently serves as Counselor to Secretary Paige at the Education Department. Part of her presentation shows how Houston helped turn around low performing schools. You can see that among the seven things they've done, one is making classrooms less crowded. It works. In fact, Houston hired about 177 new teachers through the Class Size Reduction program. Houston also used the funding to provide professional development for more than 600 teachers. That's the type of support we want all communities to have.

Mr. President, we know that smaller classes work. The research shows it, parents and teachers know it, and even Secretary Paige used smaller classes to make improvements in the Houston school district. There was not a miracle in Houston. There was an investment in the things that work including class size reduction. We should invest in the things that we know work in the classroom. Parents want to know that their federal education dollars are making a difference for students.

Mr. President, I served on a local school board. I can tell you that hiring new teachers is difficult because you've got to commit today for a new teacher when you don't know what's going to happen three months down the road.

That's one of the reasons why many school districts have had a hard time hiring new teachers on their own. Fortunately, they are not all on their own. Local educators have partners at the state and federal level who are working together to help all students succeed. That's why in 1998, Congress began the Class Size Reduction Initiative. This program sends federal dollars to school districts across the country so they can hire new, fully-qualified teachers in grades K-3. And let me remind my colleagues that this is a voluntary program. No school is forced to use this money.

If a district wants help hiring teachers to make classrooms less crowded, they simply apply. And there's very little paperwork or administration. In fact, in Washington state you can apply for the money over the Internet on a simple, one-page form. Many educators have told me that they've never seen dollars get from Congress to the classroom so quickly. Local schools make all the decisions about who to hire based on their unique needs. The money's also flexible. If schools have already reduced classroom overcrowding, they can use the money for teacher recruitment or professional development. Finally, these dollars are targeted to disadvantaged students who can make great progress when they're in a productive classroom.

This program is a success story. Since 1998, we've helped school districts across the country hire about 34,000 new teachers. Over the past three years, we've made the classroom less crowded and more productive for almost 2 million students.

Unfortunately, the underlying bill does not ensure that overcrowding is reduced. It eliminates the targeted funding for class size reduction. Some may say that we should combine funding for teacher quality and class size reduction and just let folks choose. Unfortunately, that's a false choice and kids will pay the price. This bill pits effective programs against each other and makes educators choose. In the end, our kids will lose if they can't have both smaller classes and qualified teachers. We should be the ones making that happen. Let me repeat that, smaller classes and qualified teachers go hand in hand.

Educators should not have to choose between either making classes smaller or improving teacher quality. They need both. We should fund both, and that's what my amendment would ensure.

Finally, I want to remind my colleagues that there are real consequences to not providing dedicated class size funding. Without my amendment, this bill could put schools in an unwinnable situation with very high stakes. This bill would punish schools that don't improve. At the same time, however, it takes away the very tools they need to improve. That's just wrong. So on one hand, we're telling students to meet high standards, and on the other hand this bill takes away the support they need to get there. We can do better. If we want to help students succeed -- and we're going to punish those who don't, now is the time to increase our investment in smaller classes. That's what my amendment does.

Mr. President, this week we're talking about many different education issues from accountability to testing to funding. But right now there is only one question being asked of each Senator: Do you favor targeted funding to make classrooms less crowded? Or will you take that targeted funding away from your schools?

How you vote on this amendment will affect millions of students who are trying to get a good education. I urge my colleagues to support our students by voting for this amendment.