This week the Manitoba Government announced a $4 million program to reduce kindergarten through grade 3 public school class sizes. Here is the media release:
PROVINCE SUPPORTS FUTURE SUCCESS OF MANITOBA CHILDREN BY INVESTING NEW FUNDS FOR REDUCING CLASS SIZES
The topic of class size has been extensively researched, of course, and the evidence is pretty clear that this expenditure is a waste of money designed to curry favour with the Manitoba Teacher’s Society, a key supporter of the present government.
Here is an excerpt from one of Frontier’s early commentaries discussing the relationship between class size and student performance (read it here):
“Students from Singapore and Korea, who outperformed most other countries, experience average class sizes of 41 or more, compared to the 24-student norm in the five participating Canadian provinces. Although teachers regularly identify large classes as a barrier to effective teaching, the UBC professor who co-ordinated the math and science project demurs. He was unable to find “a very strong correlation between class size and achievement.”
Rather, the key to accomplishment in our public schools lies in the very measurement the teachers’ society has fought so hard to prevent. When schools can be ranked by test scores, and when parents are allowed to shop around among a range of competing curricula, they can make informed decisions about where to send their children. If money made the difference, how do we explain the fact that private schools in Manitoba spend a lot less per student than public schools and produce superior results?
From a public choice school of economics perspective, this program illustrates how highly organized interest groups can skew public policy in their favour. It was no coincidence that Manitoba ended testing right after the government changed in 1999. The teacher’s union is a powerful player in the NDP and ending testing (Manitoba is the only province that has done this) was top of the union wish list.
In a similar vein, as student numbers decline in a country with an aging population, we continue to see a constant stream of policies designed to artificially increase the demand for teachers – including the push for more early childhood education, lengthening the number of years students must be in school, and now reducing class size even when the evidence shows that it does not benefit students.
Ultimately, we can thank the country’s dysfunctional transfer payment system for providing the largesse being captured by highly organized special interests. As more people are beginning to understand – equalization is indeed a transfer to rich people in the have nots – particularly those with political influence like the public sector unions who benefit from higher pay and softer working conditions the transfers enable.