In an effort to reduce viral transmission, many schools are planning to reduce class size if they have not reduced it already. Yet the effect of class size on viral transmission is unknown. In a recent working paper published by the Annenberg Institute at Brown University, the authors assessed the impact of the Project STAR class size study from the 1980s on infection-related school absence.
Project STAR was a randomized trial that followed 10,816 Tennessee schoolchildren from kindergarten in 1985-86 through third grade in 1988-89. Children were assigned at random to small classes (with a target size of 13 to 17 students), regular-sized classes (with a target size of 22 to 26 students), and regular-sized classes with a teacher’s aide.
The authors merged data from Project STAR with influenza and pneumonia data from the 122 Cities Mortality Reporting System on deaths from pneumonia and influenza, a surveillance study run by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 1962 through 2016. The results showed that:
- Small classes significantly reduced absence, but not necessarily by reducing infection.
- In particular, small classes reduced absence by 0.43 days/year per child on average.
- But it had no significant interaction with pneumonia and influenza mortality.
Class size reduction, by itself, may not be necessary as a public health measure.
Source (Open Access): von Hippel, Paul T. (2021). The effect of smaller classes on infection-related school absence: Evidence from the Project STAR randomized controlled trial. (EdWorkingPaper: 21-408). Retrieved from Annenberg Institute at Brown University: https://doi.org/10.26300/2bsy-ef57