Does Class Size Really Matter?

Crowded Class Size
facebook Does Class Size Really Matter?twitter Does Class Size Really Matter?google plus Does Class Size Really Matter?linkedin Does Class Size Really Matter?pinterest Does Class Size Really Matter?Share

Depositphotos 4761208 m 300x200 Does Class Size Really Matter?As educators, I believe that most of us would prefer fewer students to teach than a larger amount. We might feel that we can give more personal student attention, maintain better control and have less papers to grade. In addition, we may assume that students would have greater opportunities to thrive if there were not as much competition. But, what do the studies suggest?


I recently listened to a fascinating interview with Malcolm Gladwell about “Desirable Difficulties”. One of the subjects he discusses is class size. Without quoting a source, he stated that smaller student/teacher ratio brings “great success” in learning. However, there is an inverted bell curve to this situation. Fewer than 20 students in a classroom actually can have a negative effect on learning. Some reasons stated were that there are not enough students for rich classroom discussions, one child can dominate the room and, if a student is struggling, he has no peer to struggle along with.


The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which is a forum of 34 democratic governments and 70 non-member countries promoting economic growth, prosperity and sustainable development, studied varying class sizes around the world. What they found is that there is a perception that smaller class size positively effects learning which might influence where parents choose to send their children to school. Class size varied from fewer than 20 students in some countries to about 50 students per class in China! Generally, class size was smaller in primary school (averaging around 23-32 students) and increased as the years went on.


Between 2000 and 2009, many countries invested resources to decrease class size. However, this had only a marginal effect on improved student performance. It was found that a significant decrease in pupils (7-10 fewer students per class) had some long-term positive effects when done in the earliest grades and for students from less advantaged family backgrounds. In addition, smaller class size had a positive impact if there was an inexperienced or ineffective teacher or for teachers who were responsible for struggling students. The reduction of students gave the teacher greater opportunity to hone in on her skills, become a more qualified educator and give greater support for challenged learners.


My research found that the one consistent factor for improved student success was teacher’s competence, which often went hand in hand with better salaries. Increasing the pupil/teacher ratio in the U.S. by one student would save approximately $12 billion per year. Perhaps we can allocate this savings to the teachers, thereby providing more incentive for talented educators to come back to the classroom and bring greater productivity to the future of our country.


What do you think? Do you have personal experiences with varying class size and student learning? Is an increased teacher salary enough enticement to bring excellence back into our schools? Looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

Add your thoughts on the pros and cons of small and large classes to our list!

View List on


10 Responses to Does Class Size Really Matter?

  1. The one thing to always note when talking about class size is the age of the pupils. We need to be very careful when making statements about class size because the age of the students does indeed make a huge difference. Very often research lumps together the K-5 span and then says class size is not as important as one might think. If you look at research on the lower grades, kindergarten specifically, the larger the class the more the negative impact. The developmental needs of five year olds makes a maximum class size of 20 crucial to build foundational skills. Teacher competence is extremely important, but it can only compensate for so much… no one wants their kindergartner in a class of 23+ students, no matter who is teaching.
    Kidpeople Classroom

  2. Mindy McNeal says:

    Definitely agree that the younger the child the smaller the class…also class size needs to be smaller when students with special needs are included and/or in urban settings where lack of preschool is prevalent. The lack of attention to individual students’ needs is compounded proprtionately as class size increases.

    • Tsivya Fox says:

      Thanks for sharing. Normally, I believe special needs classes are smaller. The issue is the need for reasonably sized classes for all students. With the integration of special needs students into standard classrooms, I believe that this issue needs further study.

  3. Miri says:

    I have to agree with the small classes in the lower grades and then it could get progressively larger but there has to be a logical limit. The teacher, no matter how competent, has to be able to relate to all the students in the class, not just to some, so a class with more than 30 students automaticaly creates a situtation where the teacher can’t possibly relate to all the students and many of the students are getting what they need.
    Based on my own experience teaching all age groups (grade 1-12), I found that smaller classes, with fewer students, enabled a much more effect and productive learning environmnet. The students had a chance to express themselves and they had a feeling of belonging. Furthermore they couldn’t allow themselves to ‘disappear’ in the crowd, so it forced everyone to be active in class. This is very important.

    • Tsivya Fox says:

      Thanks for sharing your real-life experiences. My once 24 student pre-school grew to 30 students. The difference was significant.

  4. RandKon says:

    Size should be small. For recess all kids should be together. Kindergarten through out Schooling.

  5. Sally says:

    I teach a composite Year 4/5 class. 3 years ago my class grew from 23 to 28….the bigger the class got the less I could diversify my curriculum to meet my student’s needs and the more time I spent on behaviour management. This year I have gone from 20 to 18. For classroom dynamics, behaviour management, group work etc, I think I like groups in the low 20s.

    • Tsivya Fox says:

      Thanks for sharing. I imagine most of us would prefer groups under 20. The question becomes, “How practical is that?”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>