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Study: No Relationship between School Size and Student Performance

Laura Langbein and Seth Gershenson

Laura Langbein, left, and Seth Gershenson

There is no causal relationship between fluctuations in the size of primary schools and academic performance, School of Public Affairs faculty members Seth Gershenson and Laura Langbein co-wrote in a recent study.

The study, "The Effect of Primary School Size on Academic Achievement," was published in a special issue of the journal Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis in May 2015. The special issue is entitled “Research Using Longitudinal Student Data Systems: Findings, Lessons, and Prospects” and highlights policy-relevant research that exploits newly available state and district administrative data and research partnerships between academics and practitioners. In their study, Gershenson and Langbein utilize longitudinal administrative data on student performance in North Carolina that are the result of an innovative partnership between the Department of Public Instruction and academics in the state. The techniques used in their study could not have been implemented without such high quality data.

Their research can offer guidance for policymakers and practitioners, who must decide each year how to improve academic performance with limited budgets.

While the study found no practically significant universal relationship between school size and student achievement scores, two vulnerable groups were harmed by larger schools. According to the study, both socioeconomically disadvantaged students and students with learning disabilities performed significantly worse at larger schools. Gershenson and Langbein’s acute analysis may prove to be especially important for administrators managing larger schools, who must support such students.

Gershenson had other education research published in March with Professor Tekin in the National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper series and in the April 2015 Upjohn Employment Research magazine on the impact of No Child Left Behind on the labor market.