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What Do We Need to Know About Increasing Class Size?

In a scramble to reduce educational expenses, politicians and educators must examine all possibilities. One idea, supported by Gates and Duncan recommends increasing class sizes. Although the idea seems reasonable, research clearly demonstrates that the ultimate price tag exceeds any short-term financial gains. A review in the Washington Post predicts the following results:

  1. Student outcomes, including test scores, diminish with increased class sizes.

  2. Larger class sizes reduce individual student participation.

  3. Children in larger classes enjoy fewer interactions with the teacher.

  4. Teachers of large classes have less time to tailor instruction to individual needs.

An article called “The Benefits of Smaller Classes” states that research by the US Department of Education reports that class size is one of four reforms that cause an increase in student achievement. (The other three include: one-on-one tutoring, life-skills training for middle school, and instruction in phonics for elementary children.)

When educators consider the cost of grade retention, smaller classes actually save money. Smaller class sizes in primary grades continue to positively impact students in middle and senior high schools. Graduation rates improve and differences in black and white students attending colleges decreases. “National surveys of educators indicate that class size reduction is the most effective method to improve the quality of teaching.”

Unfortunately, children living in poverty usually attend schools with larger classes. At a time when our emphasis must focus on reducing inequality among schools, an increase in class size adds another obstacle to children attending low-income schools. It seems logical to use money designated for private schools to go toward decreasing student-teacher ratios in poverty areas.

“Alan Krueger of Princeton has estimated that reducing class size in the early grades shrinks the achievement gap by about 38%.” In the last four years, class size discrepancy increased.

When testifying before the Texas Senate, Andrea Brauer, from Texans Care for Children stated three important ideas:

  1. Lower class ratios and group sizes relate to improved health.

  2. Teacher retention improves when working with smaller classes.

  3. Cognitive development improves with smaller numbers.

Extensive research and personal experiences demonstrate that class size makes a difference. Saving money by increasing class sizes damages children and teachers. In the long run, we will be forced to spend even more money on remediation.

Works Cited:

Lobberecht, Marlene. League of Women Voters. 2015.

Meunnig, Peter, and Steven Woolf. “Health and Economic Benefits of Reducing the Number of Students per Classroom in US Primary Schools.” American Journal of Public Health. Sept. 2007.

Strauss, V. “Class Size Matters a Lot, Research Shows.” Washington Post. February, 2014. Found at:

U.S. Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences, “Identifying and Implementing Educational Practices Supported by Rigorous Evidence: a User Friendly Guide,” December 2003.

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