Sunday, October 7, 2012

Is There a Downside To Small Classes?

Reducing class size seems to be a no-brainer - something that teachers, parents, students, and administration can agree is a worthy goal.  In my 8+ years of teaching, I've had classes of 8 students pulled out to receive Enrichment Math & ELA instruction to 28 student in my middle school English Language Arts class. This year I have 21 students in my 5th grade class.  To me, smaller class sizes can be a huge positive factor in so many areas. Mainly - fewer students per teacher allows more interaction and 1:1 time per student.

So...what could possible be wrong with small class sizes?

Well - according to Eva Moskowitz, founder and leader of Success Charter Network in NYC,  - a lot.  In an interview with Talk of the Nation she argues that the decision to keep class sizes low comes at the expense of other positive benefits. Specifically, Moskowitz thinks that paying for more teachers results in fewer students supplies, professional development, field trips, and technology which can cause lower academic achievement.

I guess she a has a point. But in my experience, there has never been a positive result from the decision to allow larger class sizes. It's always been more students per class AND fewer field trips AND less money for supplies and technology. I'd gladly have a couple more students per class if it meant that they could all have a laptop or iPad, but in reality that is not how it pans out.

In the past, I was in a situation where (due to budget cuts and lay-offs) one grade had only 10 teachers while the other two grades in the building had 15 teachers leading to vastly different class sizes. (Sometimes 30 vs. 9) And let me tell you - that created some tension.  I also think that Moskowitz overlooks some key negatives of larger class sizes:
  • Paperwork Load (general grading, filling out individual assessments, grade reports, IEPs, report card comments, copying, preparation of supplies, reading records, etc...)
  • Parents to Contact (answering e-mails, notes and phone calls promptly...)
  • Meetings & Conferences (individual writing conferences with students, IEP meetings, parent conferences, intervention meetings, etc...)
Completing all those things well for 28 students vs. just 18 requires a big jump in time and energy that takes away from effective planning and teaching.  There is enough pressure on teachers already without this additional excuse to slash our jobs.

So how are your class sizes this year? And how has class size influenced the success of your students?


  1. I have 21 this year, which seems like a world of difference from my class of 25 from last year. You are right - additional students have the corresponding time and paperwork to go with them. We have varied from five to seven teachers for fifth grade. This year we are at six. We usually don't hire new teachers when we fluctuate - they usually just get shifted in the district to grades with larger numbers. Field trips and technology have never suffered. Personally, I would gladly shell out some of my own money for supplies if it meant that I would have a smaller class. I spend a lot of money on my class anyway. Smaller classes are overwhelmingly more beneficial than larger ones. No contest.

    Fifth in the Middle

  2. We have 29 this year. We had 30 last year and 28 the year before so unfortunately we are getting used to it. I remember back fondly on the days when we had 24 and 25 students. I agree with many of the points you made.

    room 4 imagination

  3. I have 22 students. The other 5th grade classes at my school have 17 and 20. I don't have any of the special ed. students. Also, if there are any new students throughout the year, I know that they will not be placed in my room because I have the most.

    Last year when I taught kindergarten at my old school we had a huge issue with class size. I had 27 and the other class had 26. Within my class of 27 I had 6 ESL and 2 special ed. students. At a different school (my new school now actually) they had 3 sections of kindergarten with less total students then in our 2 sections combined. Needless to say my partner, myself, and principal were not happy over our large sizes!

  4. When I was student teaching for the 11th grade, my largest class was 35. In the 8th grade, the largest class had 28 students. Now that I have a full-time position in the 6th grade, my largest class has 18 students. My smallest class has 12, and about half are SPED. The class of 12 is harder than I thought--most are extroverts and they all seem to be BFF with each other--but I'd MUCH rather have a small class than a large one any day!

  5. I currently have 22 students, which is currently the highest out of the five fifth grade classrooms. But I will most likely get more throughout the year. I work at a very transient school where we get new students daily.

    I know that 22 doesn't seem like a lot, but working at a title 1 school, our numbers are supposed to stay relatively low. Before the last few years, I averaged 18 students each day. I even had 13 students one year. I miss those days. But with the changing budget our allotted numbers keep rising. I agree with you about the additional time required to do all the paperwork and parent contacts.

    I would take smaller class sizes on a heartbeat.


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