By Youki Terada
Does Class Size Matter?
When evaluating schools, the first thing parents often look at is the class size, or number of students being taught in a particular classroom. Yet while smaller classes can be beneficial for students, research suggests that it’s not guaranteed.
A 2014 analysis by the National Education Policy Center found that smaller classes generally lead to higher test scores for students—especially in earlier grades and for students from disadvantaged backgrounds—but only if teachers are properly trained and adjust their instruction accordingly.
For example, in smaller classes teachers can tailor instruction to meet students’ specific needs, or spend less time on classroom management and more time on activities that engage students and improve learning opportunities. If teachers make these kinds of adjustments, smaller classes can yield positive results.
Despite these benefits, smaller class sizes may not be cost-effective compared with other improvements. Studies show that highly trained, well-supported teachers in large classes can be just as effective as less-experienced teachers in smaller classes. In a 2015 report titled What Doesn’t Work in Education: The Politics of Distraction, Professor John Hattie concludes that decreasing class size yields only a small net improvement in learning because teachers rarely alter their teaching style when moving from a larger to smaller class.
The takeaway: While smaller classes may be beneficial for students, don’t assume that they guarantee positive results. You should look for high-quality, experienced teachers first and foremost—even if they are teaching in large classes.