Why Class Size Matters

Posted by Loudoun Country Day School on May 29, 2019

When it comes to hotly debated education topics, class size tops the list. But while there are loud voices on both sides of the aisle, the simple fact is this: Research clearly, indisputably proves that children (especially those in K-3rd grade) are more apt to succeed when there are fewer kids in their classroom.

The most persuasive class-size research in the U.S. comes from a large experiment in Tennessee—Project STAR (Student Teacher Achievement Ratio)—which found students in small classes outperformed students in larger groups, even when teachers had the help of an aide.

Researchers who studied 1200 teachers and almost 1200 students found that kids behave better and pay more attention in smaller groups. With fewer students to manage, it’s more likely that children who aren’t behaving will be corrected and set on the proper path (which, in turn, prevents other students around them from being distracted).

In large classes, teachers may struggle to identify where problems might be arising. Because they may be spread thin, they’re unable to properly address and correct the issues at their onset. This doesn’t just pertain to behavior, of course. When one person is tasked with 30 writing assignments to review and grade—and a finite amount of time to do so—it’s inevitable that something (and someone) will slip through the cracks.

Fewer students mean more face-to-face time with a teacher, and that increased proximity builds stronger relationships and creates transparency where a child’s issues are more easily identified and addressed.

In a review of the major research published by the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado Boulder, the significance of smaller class size is further reinforced. Diane Whitmore Schnanzenbach, an associate professor of human development and social policy at Northwestern and chair of the Institute for Policy Research’s Program on Child, Adolescent, and Family Studies writes in the review:

Class size is an important determinant of student outcomes and one that can be directly determined by policy. All else being equal, increasing class sizes will harm student outcomes.

The mechanisms at work linking small classes to higher achievement include a mixture of higher levels of student engagement, increased time on task, and the opportunity small classes provide for high-quality teachers to better tailor their instruction to the students in the class.

If we take a step away from the academic success of our children, the differences of a small classroom become even more apparent. Fewer children foster a greater union, creating a unique unified experience that’s less likely to breed cliques or children who feel isolated or lost in the crowd. It goes without saying that kids who feel socially safe and sound will experience higher levels of academic achievement. But even more importantly, they benefit from the impact of deep social connections that leave a life-long imprint.

Topics: class size, teacher student ratio, education

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