Does class size matter?

It’s been all over the news: how another budget crisis in Sacramento means another spring of budget crises for local public school districts, a desperate situation that could lead to the layoffs of many more teachers and the increase in class sizes in all grades.

For this school year, Mt. Diablo Unified, one of the hardest hit in the Bay Area, already eliminated class size reduction in grades K-3. That is, it raised the number of students per class from 20 to 30.  K-3 class size reduction was introduced in California back in 1996, and districts were given incentives when they managed to keep class sizes in grades K-3 at 20. This also applied to some core 9th grade classes, such as math and English.

For this school year, Walnut Creek also raised K-3 class sizes from 20 to 25.

A lot of us parents like the idea of small class sizes because we believe our kids will potentially get more one-on-one time with their teachers. I’m sure teachers like it, too. Many education experts agree that students, over time, do better, academically and behaviorally in smaller class sizes.

“I am heartsick that some California school districts are backing away from class size reduction, a reform that is being whittled away in this terrible budget climate,” wrote Delaine Eastin, who was state superintendent of schools when class size reduction was implemented. She was sharing her views in a City Brights blog on “The decision to undermine class size reduction, to lower the number of days in the school year, to lay off teachers, counselors, nurses, crossing guards, to close schools, to reduce preschool, to reduce honors classes and even to raise fees at our colleges and universities is a shame and a disgrace.”
Some experts, however, think that, ultimately, what counts is good teachers. A bad teacher won’t do any better with 30 students than she will with 20. These experts say that California’s class size reduction experiment cost the state billions of dollars that could have been better spent on improving teacher quality and other reforms that would have made our schools the models of excellence that they once were.
What do you think? What has been your child’s experience in a small class, or in a large class. Are you scared about what’s going on right now with the disaster that is public education financing?

17 thoughts on “Does class size matter?

  1. Although we don't have any statistical evidence that smaller class sizes increase academic performance it does seem logical. Measuring teacher performance and providing tools to teachers should be a high priority. We cannot let the system (teachers union) use the excuse that larger class sizes inhibit their performance.

    Why can't we have both small class sizes and a system that nurtures high performing teachers.

    I'm not saying all teachers are poor performers…


  2. Quoting Delaine Eastin regarding how the state should spend education dollars seems a bit backwards. She was responsible for the getting the state into several expensive lawsuits over federal money given to community groups and then wasted. One of the suits ended up with a $4.5 million settlement paid to the whistle blower who was fired for revealing these problems. Now she is executive director of one of these Washington institutes that are set up to pretend to be impartial but actually pushing their agenda. Look it up in Wikipedia.


  3. The teachers I know who teach various grades in various districts say “Yes, class size does matter” and they are overwhelmed by the new numbers. I have heard comments about “early retirement” and “moving to a new area” as a personal answer to the issue.


  4. I think the majority of teachers are more overwhelmed by the idiotic bureaucracy than by class size. If we would get off the teachers' backs a do away with so many ridiculous requirements, it would go a long way to making the budget crunch “solutions” a bit more palatable.



  5. I know this is going to sound like the “back in my days” story but I hope that some of you will see that most of the time you can learn something from the past.

    In the 50's and 60's when I was in school, I never had a class that had less than 30 students in it. Somehow the teachers were able to give us a great education that prepared us well for entrance into the best colleges.

    We attended school from 7:45 am to 3 pm through our senior year of high school. There were no student teachers, parent helpers or TAs in our classrooms and the teachers were expected to take their turn at yard duty during recess. This gave us plenty of one-on-one time with our teachers. Novel idea, huh?

    Teachers were respected by their students because we knew that our parents would be immediately contacted as well as haveing to take the long walk down to the principal's office if we misbehaved. Parents were supportive of the teachers and problem children were monitered closely to help them improve.

    Yes, I know that things are a bit different now but we need to get back to the basics in our schools and remind teachers and parents that the education of the children is their most important job. Class size does not have to degrade the quality of our children's education.


  6. Honestly I'm not convinced that teachers teach differently with a larger vs a small class size. That being said there has to be a cap somewhere. Just because there are 20 students in a class doesn't mean the teacher is actually giving more one on one time. It might sound good but human behavior is what it is and I'm not sure that a teacher actually gives more one on one time just because there are fewer students. What I do think is there is less “management of children” that needs to occur.


  7. I think that class size matters when you have special needs, exceptional, and/or disruptive children.

    Private schools simply don't accept or kick out children that don't fit their mold, which allows them to have 38 stepford children in the same class.

    Public schools teach all students and don't get to cherry pick, which means they need fewer students in order to accommodate those that need more time and attention.


  8. I concur with the majority of comments thus far in this thread. I believe much depends on the discipline, lesson plan, & interest that the teacher generates to motivate learning. I think children, especially these days, seem be more coddled and less independent thus requiring more attention. Perhaps some focus should be done on how kids are raised than the rather a simplistic ratio of children per teacher.



  9. I think a lot of the historical data on class size is rapidly becoming irrelevant. I'd like to see the day split between online “lab” time supervised by teens and young adults who need the work and have the smarts, and traditional interactive teaching. That way, a class of 30 effectively becomes a class of 15, when taught in two shifts. But the unions may not be open to turning over the education of “their” students to online programs and young aides. Bottom line, the world has changed and education needs to take advantage of the new tools.


  10. Taking away time for recess, lunch, music/art, p.e., attendance and getting ready to begin the day and end the day, a teacher [elementary] gets to spend 8 -9 minutes per day per student. That is if there are 20 in the class. With 30 that number drops to 6 – 7 minutes.

    Even the best of teachers can only accomplish so much in a few minutes. And, yes, “LeftCoast”, a teacher can and does spend more time with each student if the class is smaller.

    A good teacher can increase these numbers dramatically and most do. How? The really sharp kids can do the work without a lot of individual help. The really dumb kids don't benefit from extra help so the teacher gets to spend more quality time with those that need it.


  11. While I think a lot of how you teach depends on a good classroom management system, I can attest larger class sizes are not good.

    I'm a teacher and I started teaching when class sizes were capped at 20. It was great. It allowed a whole lot more one on one time with kids, and when I would pair kids up in centers and groups, I could make the groups small enough that it lead to easy crowd control.

    Today, I have less time for students. I mean, I still make time in other ways by doing yard duty when I don't have to, talking to them after school, etc, and the reason for this is in class I often CAN'T. That bothers me. Furthermore, the classrooms didn't magically grow in size to accommodate 25-30 kids. If you can imagine a class with 25 kindergartners instead of 20, you can probably imagine more flailing limbs.

    Add more paperwork, grading per student, and IEPs and meetings, and you can see why teachers get overwhelmed regardless if they're a good teacher or not.


  12. Lucca. Thanks for your insight.

    In a parent/teacher conference with my oldest daughter's teacher, he wasn't hesitant to say that he has more than 30 students and frankly does not have enough time to do one on one. He recommended online videos from the textbook, afterschool tutoring and other remediation tools to get the kids up to speed. We used those tools and they worked rather quickly, but it took focus.

    I would love to be lazy and just yell at the teachers and principals for not giving my kid enough attention. My other first instinct is to lecture my daughter on the importance of self discipline etc etc.

    The teachers are doing a good job. They are passionate about what they do. They are having to teach very differently now due to the present financial constraints and cannot give enough attention to research each students lives and find out why they are not excelling.

    I don't buy the smart kids and dumb kids categorization. There are very few “dumb kids” in the clinical sense. The kids that do well are not automatically that way. They have someone in their lives that is giving enough the right kind of attention to that child and is helping them establish principle of learning for THAT child. The attention I refer to is strategic and is not sitting down for 6 hours everynight working through algebra.

    The teacher doesn't have the time nor the context to get that accomplished.


  13. what fewer students does is allows the teacher to correct less homework… this is not really about the kids… lessons pretty much require a certain amount of time as presentation, which will always constrain the 1:1 time, so it's bogus.

    round here in the 70s, we had 30-36 students standard. The only complaint I recall was that over about 30 made the room a little crowded, but it also made class more fun if you were a kid on the edge as it gave you more chances to actually have someone in your class you liked – and in my opinion, that's what would make a class a positive experience – that and a teacher who actually liked children.


  14. Smaller class sizes do not improve anything. Thirty in a class is a reasonable number and the norm the entire time I was in school. Real progress will not be made until it's easier to fire underperforming teachers and reward the best. This will never happen as long as the teacher's union is allowed to call the shots.


  15. … what fewer students does is allows ….

    I guess that must be the kind of grammar taught in classes with 30-36 students.


  16. anon 7:00pm

    30-36 students per class has nothing to do with grammar….the fact that grammar is not taught after Intermediate School might.


  17. touche'
    … what fewer students does is allows ….

    I guess that must be the kind of grammar taught in classes with 30-36 students.

    s/h/been “allow” – fast posting mumbles up me verbs sometimes.


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