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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release January 26, 1998

January 26, 1998

REDUCING CLASS SIZE IN GRADES 1-3 TO NATIONWIDE AVERAGE OF 18. In his State of the Union address, President Clinton will propose a $12 billion initiative over 7 years ($7.3 billion over 5 years) to help local schools provide small classes with qualified teachers in the early grades. This will help make sure that every child receives personal attention, gets a solid foundation for further learning, and learns to read independently by the end of third grade. The new initiative would reduce class size in grades 1-3 to a nationwide average of 18, by providing funds to help local school districts hire and pay the salaries of an additional 100,000 teachers. States would receive funds for teacher training, and new teachers would be required to pass state competency tests.

Small Classes Make a Difference. Studies confirm what parents and teachers know from experience -- small classes promote effective teaching and learning. In a landmark four-year experimental study of class-size reduction in grades kindergarten through 3 in Tennessee, researchers found that students in smaller classes earned significantly higher scores on basic skills tests in all four years and in all types of schools. The effects of smaller classes were largest for students in inner-city classes. Follow-up studies have shown that these achievement gains continued after the students returned to regular-size classes after third grade. Teachers in the study reported that they preferred small classes in order to better identify student needs, provide more individual attention, and cover more material effectively.

A Competent Teacher in Every Classroom. To master the basics and learn to read well, students need teachers who are qualified to teach. President Clinton's class size reduction initiative would help provide qualified teachers in grades 1-3 by:

Requiring State Basic Skills Testing for New Teachers: States would be required to implement basic skills testing for new teachers, to ensure parents that new teachers have basic reading and math skills. Each state would select the tests it determines are most appropriate for this purpose. Most states have such tests. Participating states and school districts would also be required to ensure that individuals hired to fill these new positions be either fully certified or making satisfactory progress toward full certification. School districts could use funds to provide teachers with the additional training needed to meet certification requirements.

Providing Funds for Teacher Training and Testing: 10% of the funds in this initiative can be used to promote high quality teaching by (1) training teachers in proven practices for teaching reading and in effective practices in small classes; (2) providing mentors or other support for newly hired teachers; (3) providing incentives to recruit qualified teachers to high poverty schools; and (4) testing new teachers before they are hired and developing more rigorous tests for beginning teachers.

Encouraging States to Adopt Rigorous Professional Tests and Upgrade Teacher Certification Requirements. Teachers should be able to demonstrate that they know the subject to be taught and have the necessary knowledge and skills to help their students reach challenging state academic standards. States would be encouraged to use a portion of their funds to toughen teacher certification requirements and to require new teachers to demonstrate competence. For example, states could use these funds to develop rigorous tests of subject matter expertise and professional knowledge that prospective teachers would be required to pass before they start teaching.

Holding Schools Accountable for Results. School districts receiving these funds would be required to show that each school is making measurable progress in improving reading achievement within three years, or take necessary corrective actions -- such as providing additional teacher training, revising the curriculum, or implementing proven practices for teaching reading. School districts could lose funding if there were no subsequent improvement in reading achievement in those schools. School districts would also be required to publish an annual school report card, providing parents and taxpayers with clear information on student achievement, class size, and teacher qualifications.

Targeting Funding. Funds for the President's class size reduction initiative would be distributed to states on the basis of the Title 1 formula. Within the state, each high-poverty school district would receive the same share of these funds as it received under Title 1, and the remaining funds would be distributed within the state based on class size. Matching funds would be required from participating school districts, on a sliding scale ranging from 10-50%, with high-poverty districts contributing the least. Once a state has reached an average class size of 18 in grades 1-3, it could use these funds to further reduce class size in the early grades, or it could extend its efforts to other grades.

Providing Facilities for Additional Classrooms. In order to help school systems meet the need for additional classroom space, the President is (1) proposing a $10 billion school modernization initiative over 10 years, that would provide incentives for communities to invest in local school facilities by leveraging $22 billion in bonds during 1999-2000; (2) ensuring that changes to facilities in order to accommodate class size reductions are an allowable use of school modernization funds; (3) allowing for phased-in implementation of class size initiative to enhance state/local planning.

Building on Successful Reforms in Arkansas. As part of his comprehensive education reforms while Governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton reduced class size in Arkansas to 20 in kindergarten and 23 in grades 1 through 3. His 1983 education reform plan also included a statewide intensive training program for elementary teachers and principals to improve teaching of reading, as well as basic skills testing for new teachers and basic skills and subject matter testing for experienced teachers.