Dear Mr. Morton,
The class size in my child’s elementary school is 21, the largest in our district. I’ve read that class size has no effect on student achievement. Is this true?
No, it is not true. If I had a magic wand, I would provide small classrooms for all children, especially those in grades kindergarten through third, for study after study demonstrates that they benefit more than if they spent as much time in a crowded classroom.
Many of today’s elementary school classrooms are cramped for sufficient space and crunched for ample time. Yes, space and time become luxury items, as school officials try to make do with the meager assets they have at their disposal. I wish I could wave a magic wand and restore to life President Kennedy’s dictate that we place Americans on the moon or resurrect President Eisenhower’s command to construct a colossal interstate highway system. I wish for resolute leaders to mandate that each elementary school classroom in America is limited to 13 to 17 students and becomes the most tantalizing and enlightening place for kids to come to.
Research justifies this national mission and it should initially focus on reducing classroom size for these young children. A 14-year study tracked 11,600 children from kindergarten through third grade, and eventually documented their performance in high school. Children who began school in smaller classrooms (13 to 17 students) outperformed those from larger classrooms (22 to 25). Even when classroom size increased to higher levels in fourth grade, the students who spent grades kindergarten through third grade in the smaller classrooms were already six to 14 months ahead in math, reading, and science, and were more likely to complete advanced math and English courses in high school, take college admissions tests, and graduate on time.
Lastly, African-American parents should be aware of a study that revealed African-American students who attended predominantly African-American schools got a bigger boost from small class size than Caucasian children. In Tennessee, on average, black students in small classes ended third grade with academic achievement that was seven to 10 percentage points higher than black students who attended larger classes.
Despite these findings showing that minority students benefit the most from smaller classes, they are more likely to be enrolled in classes of 25 or more. Yes, the gap in class size between schools with high and low minority populations has increased in recent years.
I believe people value children as much as paved interstate highways and moon shots, and that someday we’ll provide all children with uncrowded classrooms. Smaller classrooms enable children to get more face time with and develop a personal connection with their teachers. They are engaging places that enable children to work in small groups with fellow classmates, to stay focused longer, and misbehave less. I wish I had a magic wand.
Robert Morton is a retired school psychologist and adjunct professor in the School of Leadership and Policy Studies at Bowling Green State University.