Budget cuts, class sizes, and removing teacher safeguards (HB 400): Dooming the future of Texas

Posted on May 8, 2011


Education cuts are happening around the country and Texas is by no means immune from this phenomenon. Indeed, Texas arguably is facing the largest deficit of any state in the union. Yet, despite a surplus of money in the rainy day fund, opportunities to raise revenue by retracting subsidies to certain sectors of the economy, and fixing the structural deficit to raise the revenue promised by Governor Perry in 2006, our Governor and Legislature believe they have a mandate to decimate school funding for the foreseeable future. Indeed, for the first time in 27 years, we will not fund enrollment increases (which are substantial in many districts around the state).

As those of us in Texas area acutely aware, HB 400 by Eissler calls for a number of changes, including:

1)      Raising the 22-1 class size cap for grades K-4 to 25-1.

2)      Eliminating the requirement that districts cannot pay teachers less next year than they earned this year. It also would eliminate the state minimum salary schedule, letting school districts set their own compensation systems with their own rules.

3)      Allowing school boards to furlough teachers and reduce their salaries accordingly.

4)      Changing the date for notice of non-renewal of a teacher’s contract from the current 45th day before the end of instruction to the last day of instruction.

5)      Allowing a district to declare a financial emergency at any time for purposes of doing a reduction in force and permanently delete seniority as one of the factors used in determining who is terminated if a RIF is implemented.

6)      Eliminating the use of a neutral hearing officer for mid-year terminations and replace that with a hearing before the school board.

In speaking about this bill, Rep. Sylvester Turner (D) from Houston (one of my favorite legislators) has it exactly right when he states:

“We are dealing with HB 400 because we are unwilling to pay the tab for public education for children to get a higher quality education. HB 400 is a consolation bill that shows we’re willing to compromise and dumb down education in Texas.”

Unbelievably, our House of Representatives has even seen fit to reduce taxes on smokeless tobacco–a known carcinogen that increases health care costs and destroys families through early death. Yet, this tax reduction is more important than educating children. (See http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/ap/tx/7551585.html).

Everyone knows that the only strategy to maintain a strong economic future in this state is to invest in our education system (See, for example, any of Steve Murdock’s dire predictions from the last ten years). Even most Republicans agree that our economic future depends primarily on improving our education system to attract companies with higher wage jobs to the state. Companies like IBM, Intel, Google, etc. are not going to move or stay here if there is not an educated work force.  Yet, we have been decreasing our effort over the last five years years and the bills out of this session will likely do irrevocable harm that will last for generations to come. It is as simple as that. This legislature is making decisions that will affect the future of millions of Texans for decades to come and they have chosen to say–at least at this point int time–that they don’t care about us or our kids.

Below are my thoughts on these proposed measures and some research to back these thoughts up. Part A deals with the class size issue while Part B deals with the removal of teacher safeguards. This post is a little rambling as I am completing it in between celebrating Mother’s Day with my wonderful family, so please excuse any errors.


The major problem with this proposal is that smaller class sizes lead to greater achievement–especially for poor/minority students and students in inner-city schools–and lower teacher attrition.

Recent research is mixed in this area, but given that most states have followed Texas’ lead and generally reduced class sizes and normalized them across schools, this is not surprising. When there is little variation in class sizes, a statistical analysis will usually find no statistically significant difference for a relationship between class size and student achievement.But that does NOT mean class size does not impact student achievement, but simply means that the differences in class sizes across classrooms or schools is not large enough for the analysis to determine any impact.

The best study on the effect of class size occurred in Tennessee with the STAR study. This study is incredibly important because it randomly placed students with teachers in classrooms. Further, the classrooms were divided into three types: small classes with a student-teacher ratio between 13 and 17; regular classes with a student-teacher ratio of 22 to 25; and, regular classes (22 to 25 students) with an educational aide. Because the study was experimental–students and teachers were randomly assigned–the methodology was considered the “gold standard” of research. This STILL remains the ONLY large-scale, randomized trial focusing on class size. For reviews, see http://www.heros-inc.org/summary.pdf and http://harrisschool.uchicago.edu/about/publications/working-papers/pdf/wp_06_06.pdf).

The study found that students in the smaller classes outperformed the students in the other classes by a significant margin. In addition, the benefits to students in predominantly African American schools was even greater–around twice the positive effect than for students in other schools Further, these differences remained over time. Krueger and Whitmore (2002) suggest that the additional resources in lower performing schools have added intensity of effect,

Another study also pointed to the positive effect of reduced class sizes.Grissmer and Flanagan (1998) found that Texas and North Carolina had the greatest gains on the National Assessment of Educational Progress after controlling for student demographics (see http://govinfo.library.unt.edu/negp/reports/grissmer.pdf). This was one of the reports touted by Governor George W. Bush when running for President.  The authors find that several policies enacted in Texas contributed to the rapid increase in scores in Texas. One of those policies was the reduction in class size at the elementary grade levels.

Specifically, the authors stated:

One key provision of the Perot plan was full day kindergarten and a subsidized public pre-kindergarten program for low income families. This program has continued over time with the result that Texas has a greater proportion of its children in public prekindergarten than any state in the nation. Research would suggest that this program could be responsible for a small part of score gains in lower grades (Barnett, 1995). A related emphasis in Texas has been to shift resources to K-3 levels from higher levels through class size reductions and other related programs.

So, two of the policies that contributed to the dramatic gains in the 1990s on NAEP were early childhood education and reduced class sizes in the early grades. These are the very two policies that legislators want to cut!!!! Why would you want to eliminate the VERY POLICIES THAT MADE TEXAS A LEADER IN THE NATION DURING THE 1990s????? Because we would rather keep subsidizing oil and gas companies and letting businesses not pay their fair share?

Other notes on class size:

—There is strong evidence that smaller classes produce higher achievement- with larger gains for minority and disadvantaged students (Krueger, 1998; Mostellar, 1995; Word, et al, 1994, Word, et al, 1990; Finn & Achilles, 1990; Nye, et al, 1995).

—For every $1 invested in reducing class size from 22 students to 15 students in lower grades results in about $2 in benefits in total increased earnings for those students over their work careers. This, in turn, leads to greater tax revenues and lower social care costs. [Krueger, A. (2003). Economic considerations and class size. Economic Journal, 113, pp. 34-63.]

—California’s class size reduction effort led to gains on NAEP for California students. http://www.classsizematters.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/California_CSR_Fatih_Unlu.pdf

—Reducing class sizes has benefits for all students, but especially for poor and minority students (Bruce J. Biddle and David C. Berliner; West Ed; 2002) [See http://www.wested.org/online_pubs/small_classes.pdf%5D

—“Improvements in test scores attributable to attending small classes in K-3 remained significant five years after small classes were disbanded. Few educational interventions have demonstrated this degree of longevity. However, in order to obtain the long-term benefits, both an early start and continued small-class participation are important.” [The Enduring Effects of Small Classes; Jeremy D. Finn, Susan B. Gerber, Charles M. Achilles, Jayne Boyd-Zaharias ]

—Harold Wenglinsky, from the Educational Testing Service [See http://www.ets.org/Media/Research/pdf/PICMEMORANDUM.pdf%5D, used NAEP scores to find the following:

  • Students in small classes performed better than students in large classes for 4th and 8th  grade levels, even taking into account student demographics, the overall resource levels, and cost of living.
  • Gains were larger for 4th graders than for 8th graders. Fourth graders in small classes were one-third of a grade level
  • The gains were larger for inner-city students than for any other group. For 4th graders in inner cities, the difference was 3/4ths of a grade level, meaning that an inner-city student in a small class could be expected to progress 75 percent more quickly than he or she would have in a large class.

—As class size increases, so too does teacher attrition [see, for example, Susanna Loeb; Linda Darling-Hammond; John Luczak (2005); Pas (n.d.); Mont & Rees, 1996); Bradley, Green, & Leeves (2006)]. Thus, as we save money from increased class sizes, we will lose a substantial amount of money (and expertise) by greater teacher attrition. Further, this will likely have a greater negative affect on high need schools since class size appears to have a more pronounced effect on turnover in high need schools.

While some studies find no effect for class sizes, the fact remains that the ONLY study that used an experimental design across a large number of schools found significant positive effects for all students and larger effects for students in inner-city schools, particularly African American schools.


What we hear from the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) and other organizations is that we can reduce class sizes and place an effective teacher in the classrooms with more students and have no loss in student achievement. This argument is flawed in several ways.

First, where exactly are all these extra effective teachers going to come from?

Sure, we would need fewer teachers and could possibly spread the effective teachers across the remaining classrooms. (What I find interesting is that the very people proposing that we can make up the negative affect on achievement from increasing class sizes are the very people who say we have far too many ineffective teachers. If their contention that we have too many ineffective teachers is true, then we certainly don’t have enough effective teachers to fill all the larger classrooms if we are going to lay off 20% to 30% of teachers. They cannot have it both ways. (Oh yes, they can–because they don’t have to rely on silly things like actual facts, data, and peer-reviewed research.)

One thing we do know is that increasing class sizes leads to greater teacher turnover (See, for example, Susanna Loeb; Linda Darling-Hammond; John Luczak (2005); Pas (n.d.); Mont & Rees, 1996); Bradley, Green, & Leeves (2006); http://heblab.research.yale.edu/pub_pdf/pub181_Brackettetal2010ERA.pdf; http://www.nyc.gov/html/records/pdf/govpub/1024teachersal.pdf).

Thus, by increasing class sizes we will drive out teachers and replace them with inexperienced teachers who are less effective and far more likely to quit than more experienced teachers (the research on the greater effectiveness of more experienced teachers and their lower attrition rate is voluminous and agreed upon by almost everyone in the field).

Exacerbating this issue is that state leaders have ensured that the Texas Education Agency has reduced barriers to entry into the teaching profession. This is EXACTLY THE OPPOSITE STRATEGY OF EVERY COUNTRY THAT OUTPERFORMS US ON INTERNATIONAL TESTS.  The state has done this by creating a slew of largely unregulated, for-profit alternative certification programs that have low entrance requirements, provide little or no preparation, and offer sub-standard support to new teachers if they provide any at all. Such teachers are at least 50% more likely to leave the profession after three years even after controlling for personal-, student-, and school-characteristics (Fuller, 2007). Moreover, teachers from alternative certification programs do NOT have to have more than 12 hours in the subject matter that they are teaching even though we know that subject matter expertise increases teacher effectiveness. In fact, some of the very same organizations pushing subject matter expertise (like TPPF) also push for more alternative certification programs.. Alternatively, teachers from university-based programs must a major in their field.

And guess where the alternative certification teachers go to teach? Yep–poor, minority, and low-performing schools where we need the BEST PREPARED TEACHERS, NOT THE LEAST PREPARED TEACHERS!!!!!

All the evidence suggests that the increase in class size will lead to LOWER teacher quality and effectiveness, not greater teacher quality and effectiveness. And we already have a huge problem with inequities in teacher quality across schools (http://www.atpe.org/advocacy/issues/teacherqualitystudy.asp).


–Eliminating the requirement that districts cannot pay teachers less next year than they earned this year.

–Eliminating the state minimum salary schedule and letting school districts set their own compensation systems with their own rules.

–Allowing school boards to furlough teachers and reduce their salaries accordingly.

–Changing the date for notice of non-renewal of a teacher’s contract from the current 45th day before the end of instruction to the last day of instruction.

–Allowing a district to declare a financial emergency at any time for purposes of doing a reduction in force and permanently delete seniority as one of the factors used in determining who is terminated if a RIF is implemented.

–Eliminating the use of a neutral hearing officer for mid-year terminations and replace that with a hearing before the school board.

If made permanent, these parts of the bill will drive down teacher salaries, de-professionalize teachers, and have a significant negative effect on teacher working conditions. Research has shown that all three of these factors significantly influence a state and districts’  abilities to recruit and retain the best and brightest into the profession.

A very large body of literature finds that salaries–including those in education–are key to recruiting and retaining high-quality staff (Murnane & Olsen 1989; Murnane, Singer, & Willett 1989; Murnane & Olsen 1990; Rickman & Parker 1990; Grissmer & Kirby 1992). Any policy that depresses teacher salaries–even in the short-term–are likely to have both short- and long-term negative effects on the quality of individuals entering the teacher pipeline.

Likewise, newer research–much of it done by myself in collaboration with Barnett Berry and others at the Center for Teaching Quality in North Carolina (http://www.teachingquality.org/)–concludes that improving teacher working conditions and increasing the professional status of teachers improves the quality of teachers entering the profession and increases the retention of teachers (Berry & Fuller, 2008, 2007a,b,c) In fact, in two different studies, both Helen Ladd (2009, http://www.newteachercenter.org/pdfs/Ladd-TWC_Perceptions.pdf) from Duke and Loeb, Darling-Hammond, & Luczak (2005,) from Stanford found that working conditions have a substantial impact on teacher retention even after controlling for salary, student demographics, and student achievement. In fact, the working conditions–including class sizes–were a more powerful predictor of teacher retention than either student demographics or achievement.

Every time I am at the Capitol or read statements by politicians, I constantly hear about how we need to attract the best and brightest into the teaching profession. Yet, this session, legislators keep proposing and passing bills that will do the EXACT OPPOSITE and this bill is no different. Yes this bill will save money and make life easier for superintendents and school boards. But superintendents and school boards DON’T teach children. TEACHERS DO!!! Legislators should be making every attempt to save teaching positions and pass bills that improve teacher salaries and working conditions, not make them worse.

In short, this bill–especially in conjunction with a slew of other bills such as SB 4 which will tie the employment of novice teachers to measures of student achievement–will have a chilling effect on the pipeline of individuals entering the profession. Indeed, this bill will provide a DISINCENTIVE for the best and brightest to enter and remain in the profession. If passed and made permanent, this bill will further the decline in teacher quality and effectiveness that has already been set in motion by the adoption of an accountability system that inaccurately identifies successful and unsuccessful schools, the failure of the legislature to update the cost-of-education index, the lowering of barriers to entry into the teaching profession, the incentives given to individuals to complete fly-by-night for-profit teacher preparation programs that make more money if they under-prepare teachers, and the general bashing of teachers by so-called “reform” advocates at the state and national levels who believe that somehow free market forces will attract the best and brightest into the profession despite every piece of research showing that their strategies don’t work.

I am truly, truly disheartened by this current legislature. They are taking the easy way out and avoiding making the hard decisions that might reduce their chances of being re-elected but would improve the future of the state. We all know that these draconian budget cuts will have a devastating effect on our children and especially poor children. Yet, too many legislators are putting personal ambitions before the well-being of other people’s children. The legislators know that the teachers who remain in the profession will give their all because teachers are truly dedicated to the well-being of children. If only we could say the same about this current legislature.


(missing references will be provided upon request)

Achilles, C.M., Nye, B.A., Zaharias, J.B., and Fulton, B.D., The Lasting Benefits Study(LBS) in Grades 4 and 5(1990-1991): A Legacy from Tennessee’s four year (K-3) class size study(1985-1990), Project STAR. Paper presented at the North Carolina Association for Research in Education. Greensboro, North Carolina, January 14, 1993.

Barnett, Steven, “Long-Term Effects of Early Childhood Programs on Cognitive and School Outcomes”, The Future of Children, Los Altos, CA: The David and Lucile Packard Foundation, Vol. 5, no. 3, Winter 1995.

Finn, Jeremy D. and Charles M. Achilles, “Answers and Questions About Class Size: A Statewide Experiment,” American Educational Research Journal, Vol. 27, No. 3, Fall 1990, pp. 557-577.

Mosteller, F., “The Tennessee Study of Class Size in the Early School Grades,” The Future of Children, Vol. 5, No. 2, pp. 113-127, 1995.

Nye, B.A., Achilles, C.M., Zaharias, J.B., and Fulton, B.D., Project Challenge Third Year Summary Report: An Initial Evaluation of the Tennessee Department of Education “AT Risk” Student/teacher Ratio Reduction Project in Seventeen Counties, 1989-1990 through 1991-92. Nashville: Center of Excellence for Research in Basic Skills, College of Education, Tennessee State University, Nashville. April, 1995

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