journalism that swims
against the current.

Smaller Classes Do Matter, Sun Editors Play Dumb

Editorial ignores vast research linking class size to student performance.

Charlie Naylor 2 Oct

image atom

A Vancouver Sun editorial published in the spring alarmingly misrepresented the available information on class-size research. Consider the following:

The Sun provides a single source to support its claim that researchers have been unable to link class size to student performance. The source is Eric Hanushek. No other research is referenced. Hanushek's work has been widely challenged by, for instance, Alan Krueger (Economic Policy Institute, 2000), who found exactly the opposite results using Hanushek's own data: lower class size is linked to higher student achievement. He also found that some of Hanushek's samples were misinterpreted and miscoded. Hanushek has also been criticized for the methodologically inappropriate use of teacher-pupil ratios by Finn (2002), who argues that such data does not reflect class size. While Hanushek appears 'persuasive' to the Sun's editorial writer, his many challengers do not rate any mention at all.

Four decades of findings

As Dr. Wayne Ross of UBC pointed out in his letter to the Sun, Hanushek ignores studies that show the opposite of what he claims to be true. These include not only the most thorough research anywhere in the world on class size, Project STAR, but also studies conducted or reviewed by Glass and Smith (1978), Mueller et al (1988), Robinson (1990) and Ehrenberg et al (2001). He does not reference the Indiana Prime Time or the Wisconsin SAGE project. All of these studies, over four decades, concluded that smaller class size increased student achievement.

The Sun did not shine any light on these studies. It does not mention them at all.

Project STAR, widely renowned for its academic rigour and scale, has been reported in hundreds of research articles and presented widely at international conferences. This study found that in every grade level students in small classes outperformed students in larger classes in every achievement test administered. This study was not referenced by the Sun.

Editors ignore own reporter

Even The Vancouver Sun's own education reporter has stated that small classes benefit student learning. In an article of April 5, 2005, education reporter Janet Steffenhagen reported findings from B.C. School District 23's small-class pilot project, stating that:

"The performance of children involved in the study in eight Kelowna schools has improved, which wasn't unexpected given that similar trials in the US have made the same discovery." She also stated: "The schools noticed an immediate improvement among students in the smaller classes."

The Sun is therefore totally wrong in stating, "researchers have been unable to consistently demonstrate that reductions in class size yields an increase in student performance." Researchers have done so over four decades, and in the largest and most comprehensive class size study in the world (STAR). The benefits of small class sizes are not myths, as claimed, but well-researched facts. Yes, there are many debates around the issue of class size, and it is not the cure-all for the whole education system, but the research is clear and definitive: smaller class sizes result in improved student achievement.

Timed for election

The most worrying aspect of the editorial, which ran May 9, 2005, about a week before the provincial election, is in considering whether the writing of it reflects incompetence or malice.

If one believes that The Vancouver Sun is incapable of accessing the hundreds of articles, major studies, and conference presentations, that provide the evidence (or even unable to read its own education reporter's article written barely a month earlier), then the newspaper is clearly incompetent.

If one believes that the article reflects a desire to condemn a political party whatever the evidence, then The Vancouver Sun is malicious because it ignores all the evidence simply to make the case it wants to make.

Charlie Naylor is a researcher in the BCTF's Research and Technology Division. A version of this article appears in the September edition of Teacher, a newsmagazine of the BCTF.  [Tyee]

  • Share:

Facts matter. Get The Tyee's in-depth journalism delivered to your inbox for free

Tyee Commenting Guidelines

Comments that violate guidelines risk being deleted, and violations may result in a temporary or permanent user ban. Maintain the spirit of good conversation to stay in the discussion.
*Please note The Tyee is not a forum for spreading misinformation about COVID-19, denying its existence or minimizing its risk to public health.


  • Be thoughtful about how your words may affect the communities you are addressing. Language matters
  • Challenge arguments, not commenters
  • Flag trolls and guideline violations
  • Treat all with respect and curiosity, learn from differences of opinion
  • Verify facts, debunk rumours, point out logical fallacies
  • Add context and background
  • Note typos and reporting blind spots
  • Stay on topic

Do not:

  • Use sexist, classist, racist, homophobic or transphobic language
  • Ridicule, misgender, bully, threaten, name call, troll or wish harm on others
  • Personally attack authors or contributors
  • Spread misinformation or perpetuate conspiracies
  • Libel, defame or publish falsehoods
  • Attempt to guess other commenters’ real-life identities
  • Post links without providing context


The Barometer

Who Do You Think Will Win the Conservative Leadership Race?

Take this week's poll