Compelling evidence demonstrates that reducing class size, particularly for younger children, has a positive effect on student achievement overall and an especially significant impact on the education of disadvantaged children. The American Federation of Teachers is a strong advocate for reducing class size to help raise student achievement, especially in high-poverty, at-risk schools.
Large gains in both math and reading stem from more effective teaching and more focused learning. More teacher-student interaction allows teachers to recognize the needs of individual students and customize instruction and assignments. Teachers know the students better and can recognize problems and special needs early. For their part, students are more likely to be on task and less likely to talk amongst themselves. They create fewer discipline problems and engage in more pro-social behavior, allowing teachers to devote more time to instruction and less to controlling the class. Smaller classrooms are more pleasant and have fewer distractions.
As participants in early class size experiments enter the workforce, researchers have found long-term effects of small classes in the early years. Students with two or more years of small classes in elementary school score higher on tests in middle and high school, are more likely to graduate and are more likely to take the SAT or ACT and apply to college. They are also healthier and eventually earn more, paying more taxes and receiving less welfare.
Consensus on the benefits of small classes has led parents, teachers, administrators, policymakers and politicians to adopt some form of class size reduction in all but six states. Simply cutting class size does not guarantee significant increases in performance for all students, however. The AFT supports class size reduction plans that:
- Aim for classes between 15 and 19 students each. Schoolwide or districtwide averages mean that some students remain in classes far exceeding the optimal size.
- Target schools with low-achieving and low-income students. "One size fits all" class size plans neglect staffing problems and overcrowding in low-achieving schools, which gain the most from class size reduction.
- Have a thoughtful implementation plan so that districts have the time and money to provide adequate classroom space and hire highly qualified teachers.
Small Class-size benefits extend beyond school, American Teacher (Dec./Jan. 2008)
International studies add to body of class-size research, American Teacher (May/June 2008)