23 SES 02 C, Policymaking and Reforms in Education (1)
Class size is one of the oldest and most extensively researched topics in education. Despite the innumerable studies, meta-analyses and articles regarding class size, results and recommendations are inconsistent. (Ehrenberg et al., 2001; Hanushek, 2006; Slavin 1989). Still, in Finland, as elsewhere, class size reduction is the most frequently proposed solution to todays’ educational problems. There has been relatively little research previously into class size in Finland. The average class size in Finland is today close to the OECD mean (OECD, 2011). Due to the challenges that schools are facing in the form of increasing student heterogeneity and students with special needs, demands for reducing class size by stipulating a legally defined maximum have been raised.
While there have been hundreds of studies of class size dealing with general education, few researchers have focused on class size and the role of students with special needs. According to Richardson and Powell (2011) most countries are coming under increasing pressure to implement inclusive education programs – education for all. An educational reform regarding the special education system was legislated and implemented in Finland 2011. The reform introduced a three-tier model, comprising a new phase of intensified support between general and special support. The reform emphasizes that in the three-tier model, students receiving intensified or special support (ISS) should be included within regular classes in local schools instead of in segregated classes or special schools. Concurrently with this educational legislation change, the Finnish Ministry of Education has allocated extra funding to municipal authorities to facilitate reduction in class sizes. The most recent additional funding, for the year 2013, was specifically intended for allocation to regular classes containing ISS-students.
Class size is often a variable at the heart of policy debates on school quality and the allocation of school resources in many countries (Angrist & Lavy 1999). This question is quite topical in view of a recent proposition in Finland (Jakku-Sihvonen & Kuusela, 2012) that for every ISS-student, the overall class size should be reduced by one student. The main focus in present paper is on class size in Finnish lower secondary schools (years 7–9) with special emphasis on the ISS-students in regular classrooms.
In contrast to the proposition mentioned above, Zarghami & Schnellert (2004) present a contrary viewpoint, claiming in their analysis that there is not enough evidence to indicate that special education students show higher academic achievement in smaller classes. They also recommend that policy makers consider more cost-effective ways for improving student achievements than class size reduction, such as ensuring appropriately qualified teachers.
Given that there has been very little previous research on class size in Finland, the present study has three main foci:
1) What is the class size in Finnish lower secondary schools at different grade levels and the share of ISS-students?
2) What other supportive means are in use in schools instead of class size reductions (e.g., teacher assistants, co-teaching)?
Angrist, J. & Lavy, V. 1999. Using Mamoinides rule to estimate the effect of class size on scholastic achievement. Quarterly Journal of Economics 114, 533–574. Ehrenberg, R.G., Brewer, D.J., Gamoran, A. & Willms, J.D. 2001. Class size and student achievement. Psychological science in the public interest 2, 1–30. Hanushek, E.A. 2006. School resources. In E.A. Hanushek & F. Welch (Eds.) Handbook of the Economics of Education. Elsevier. Jakku-Sihvonen, R. & Kuusela, J. 2012. [Perusopetuksen aika. Selvitys koulujen toimintaympäristöä kuvaavista indikaattoreista.] Time for Basic education. A Report for indicators representing operational environment at schools. Reports of Ministry of Education, Finland 2012:13 Richardson, J., W. & Powell, J., J., W. 2011. Comparing special education. Origins to contemporary paradoxes. California: Stanford University Press. OECD 2011. Education at a glance. Slavin, R. E. 1989. Class size and student achievement: small effects of small classes. Educational Psychologist 24, 99–110. Zarghami, F. & Schnellert G. (2004). Class size reduction: No silver bullet for special education students’ achievement. International Journal of Special Education 19, 89–96.
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