August 1, 2010

Class sizes matter

AchievementGap“Less is more’’ is a phrase that speaks to simplicity and clarity. It has been used by famed poet Robert Browning, and by great musical composers and architects.

As teachers know, “less is more’’ also applies to classroom size.

Studies in recent years have shown what teachers have long contended: There is a link between smaller class sizes and student achievement. This research is contained in “PSEA's 20/20 Vision for the Future,’’ available at

Research has shown, and PSEA believes, that class sizes of 15 to 18 students per teacher should be the norm in elementary grades, and no larger than 20 students in secondary schools.

Reduced class sizes enable teachers to provide more individualized instruction. In doing so, teachers are better able to identify students with special needs and those with learning problems. This more readily provides the proper intervention.

Studies show students in smaller classes during their elementary years tend to take more advanced courses in high school, and are more likely to graduate in the top 10 percent of their high school class.

Smaller class sizes at the secondary level have been shown to be helpful in reducing high school dropout rates. Similarly, fewer numbers of students assigned to secondary school counselors provide more meaningful student relationships with adults.

The enhanced student achievement from smaller class sizes is particularly pronounced for minority students and those from low-income families.

African-American students from smaller class sizes have improved significantly on test scores and also participate in SAT and ACT tests in far greater numbers.

There are other, more subtle benefits from reduced class sizes: Less retention in early elementary grades, fewer disciplinary problems and improved staff morale.

All of this translates into benefits to society in terms of better-educated and socially responsible citizens. It also means significant savings for local school districts and the Commonwealth.

One recent study concluded that smaller class sizes at the elementary level result in net savings of $170,000 per high school student. For students from low-income families, the savings are more than $195,000. Overall, the Economic Policy Institute found that every dollar invested in smaller class sizes yields $2 in economic benefits.

For additional information on how “less is more," visit



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