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Small Classes Versus Vouchers

In contrast, a three-year-old program to provide smaller classes is showing promising results. Wisconsin's program, known as Student Achievement Guarantee in Education (SAGE), provides state funding to reduce the student-teacher ratio in kindergarten through third grade in low-income schools to 15:1. It began with 30 schools in 21 districts and by the year 2000-01 it will serve up to 400 schools across the state.

In its recently released third-year report, SAGE students performed statistically higher across all grade levels in comparison to a control group of students in non-SAGE classrooms. Gains were especially noteworthy for African-American students. For example, third-grade African Americans in the program succeeded in narrowing the gap between their achievement and that of white SAGE students. In comparison schools, the gap widened (see article on the SAGE report).

Importantly, the SAGE program goes beyond merely reducing class size. Participating schools are required to collaborate with community organizations to provide educational, recreational, community, and social services before and after school. Schools are also required to provide a rigorous academic curriculum and to incorporate staff development into the program so that teachers can take advantage of the smaller classes to improve student learning.

The SAGE and voucher reports also hint at important differences in how the programs deal with special education students.

Private voucher schools are not required to provide special education services, and available information suggests that special education students are only a small percentage of the students in private schools.

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