When choosing a school for your child, many factors have to be considered. For example, the teaching style, the location, and the curriculum are important criteria to take into account.
Another crucial factor is class size. Many studies have shown that the lower the student-teacher ratio, the higher the student achievement. The article, “How important is class size?,” published on http://www.GreatSchools.org, showed that there are many advantages to lowering class size to fewer than 20 students. This is especially true in the early grades and with children who come from disadvantaged or non-native English-speaking households. “Students are less likely to be retained, more likely to stay in school and more likely to earn better grades.”
“What are the Advantages of Small Class Sizes?,” on http://www.methodschools.org, explains why small classrooms may have huge advantages over larger ones. For one thing, they are quieter. There are not as many students moving around, getting up to sharpen their pencils, going out to use the restrooms, or shuffling papers. For another, it’s easier for teachers to give more one-on-one attention to students, especially those who need more help as well as those who learn faster and need additional work to keep them from getting bored and restless.
Students in smaller classes also get to know one another better and are more likely to develop closer friendships with their peers. They may, therefore, be more inclined to reach out to them when they have questions or need help on a project or skill.
Discipline is also easier and disruptions more manageable with fewer kids, so instead of time being spent on behavioral issues, the focus can be on the actual teaching. In addition, smaller classes cut down on administrative duties. For example, taking attendance, passing out papers and grading assignments take less time, which allows the teacher to spend more energy on his or her students.
Don Ernst, director of government relations with the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), said in the article Are Smaller Classes the Answer? on http://www.educationworld.com, that “smaller class size enhances learning for a basic common-sense reason — it helps teachers in getting to know the kids. You can get to know 19 kids better than you can get to know 30 kids.” Teachers can then figure out what their strengths and weaknesses are and tailor their instruction to meet those needs.
Most states, such as Virginia, have standards of quality in place regarding class size in public schools. To give an example, for grades one, two, and three there should be a ratio of 24 students to one teacher with no class being larger than 30 students.
However, many private schools tend to keep class sizes even smaller. A study by The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) showed that “two of the top five reasons parents gave for choosing a private school are ‘smaller class sizes’ (48.9 %) and ‘more individual attention for my child’ (39.3%). The other three reasons were better student discipline, better learning environment, and improved student safety, all of which are influenced by class size.”
Academic gains are not the only benefit of lowering class size. A recent study published in the American Journal of Public Health revealed that reducing class sizes in elementary schools may be more cost-effective than most public health and medical interventions. This is because “students in smaller classes are more likely to graduate from high school, and high school graduates earn more and also enjoy significantly better health than high school dropouts.”
The NCTE also stated in the article Why Class Size Matters Today, that “researchers have found that reducing class size can influence socioeconomic factors including earning potential, improved citizenship, and decreased crime and welfare dependence. The beneficial effects of being assigned to a small class also include an increased probability of attending college.”
Of course, there are many factors that determine a child’s educational success, such as the leadership of a school, the quality of the teachers and curriculum, the home environment, and academic aptitude. But research has shown time and again that keeping the class size on the smaller side is one way to make sure children get the attention and focus of the teacher that they need to succeed, in school and in life.
Written for Viva Tysons magazine in Tysons, VA