U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) introduced the Facilitating Outstanding Classrooms Using Size Reduction (FOCUS) Act of 2011 [bill summary, PDF], which the Senator says would provide states with the resources they need to reduce class sizes across the early grade levels in order to provide students and teachers with an educational environment that encourages maximum student academic growth. Murray's bill will also put in place evaluation tools to assess the program's effectiveness.
"Studies show that smaller classes help children improve in all areas of life. As a mother and former teacher, I have a deep commitment to our nation's students and the environment in which they're educated," said Senator Patty Murray. "The FOCUS Act will provide school districts with the resources they need to reduce class sizes, recruit qualified teachers, and offer students the educational environment they need to learn and succeed."
Specifically, the FOCUS Act would:
· Create a grant program to reduce class sizes to 18 students in Kindergarten through third grade and beyond. States would receive funding to allocate to local educational agencies to hire new qualified teachers and to create a continuum of small classes for students in the early grades.
· Create a separate authorization for Class Size Reduction efforts to prevent them from competing with teacher professional development and training funds in Title II of NCLB.
· Provide districts with the ability to recruit highly qualified teachers to these new classrooms and provide the professional development needed to promote educator retention and implement high-quality instructional practices.
· Increase accurate data, research, and resources available nationally on class size.
· Create an evaluation of the class size reduction program to assess and report on the program's effectiveness.
According to Senator Murray, research shows that participating in small classes has increasing academic benefits from year to year, both in the early grades when classes are small and in subsequent years when students are placed in larger classes. Students who were in small classes in early grades were found to be making better grades in high school and taking more advanced courses. At the end of fifth grade, students who were in small classes in first through third grades were about half a school year ahead of students from larger classes in all core subjects–reading, language arts, math, and science.
Senator Murray is a senior member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee that oversees Education legislation as well as the Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies (LHHS) Appropriations Subcommittee that oversees education funding.