Large classes, high scores

Top-scoring Chicago public elementary schools have the largest class sizes in the city, reports the Chicago Sun-Times. Low-scoring schools can afford small classes because students bring extra “poverty” dollars with them, but small classes don’t provide enough boost to help disadvantaged children catch up. In middle-class neighborhoods and at magnet schools, rising scores are attracting middle-class students who supply no extra funding. In addition, some popular schools let class sizes rise above 30 to qualify for extra money for overcrowding, which can be spent to hire aides or to add an art or music teacher.

In 2004-2005, Edgebrook’s sole first-grade room held a whopping 40 students. That year, the school posted the highest test score among the city’s neighborhood schools, yet it had the largest primary class sizes in the six-county area. At least two of its tested grades that year — third and eighth — held 30 or more students.

. . . That year, a second teacher helped part of the day in first grade. This year, even with a new mobile classroom due by January, Edgebrook’s two first-grade rooms will hold 30 and 27 kids. Older grades also are big: fourth- through eighth average 33 to 37 kids.

High-scoring schools tend to have experienced teachers and parents willing to help out in the classroom. Teacher quality trumps class size.

When California reduced class size to 20 students in K-3, middle-class suburban schools hired experienced teachers from urban schools, which had to fill new classrooms with novices, many of whom got frustrated and quit after a year. Because class-size reduction lowered teacher quality in high-poverty schools, the very expensive program had little or no benefit for the neediest students.

Via News Alert.

About Joanne


  1. Apart from the quality of curriculum and instruction as well as teacher competence, a crucial element that dictates outcomes is the quality of the student body. If a classroom has a critical mass of behavior-disordered students, then the above considerations and classroom size have less of an impact. To make any headway, schools need to separate the chronically behavior-disordered students.

  2. Someone who cares says:

    Did we read the same article? Larger classes also had better SUPPORT–in parental-additional teacher-aide support. The article also points out that many parents are choosing smaller class size schools because of children’s behavior and discipline needs. Saying that larger class sizes create higher scores is incorrect.

  3. Someone who cares –

    Let me lay out a simple puzzle for you – I have $120,000 with which to hire teachers for 60 kids. If I divide the kids into four classes of 15, I have to split the money four ways, roughly $30,000 a teacher. If I divide the kids into three classes of 20, I have to divide the money three ways, roughly $40,000 a teacher. Now, say I divide the kids into two classes of 30, then I have only to split the money in half, leaving roughly $60,000 per teacher.

    While this is in no way meant to cover the entirety of the school bugdeting puzzle, higher class sizes in general allow a school to devote more resources to each teacher. In general, the more a position pays the more people will want it, allowing the school to select better candidates. So, while it would be simplistic to say larger classes raise test scores, it would be equally simplistic to dismiss the notion that such an effect could be observed.

    In a world of limited resources, trade-offs must be made. Ideally, of course, we would have one gifted teacher for every child. There are neither enough gifted teachers nor is there enough money to pay them for that proposition to work. So the trade-offs and compromises begin to appear. The school is given a certain amount of resources in the form of money. Money, however, does not teach kids. So, the school has to take that money and translate that into resources that teach and support the teaching of children. This decision making runs from how much to pay teachers and how many students they should teach to how often to paint over the graffiti in the bathrooms.

    Personally, I believe that schools should be free to leverage their resources how they see fit to accomplish the mission of educating children, so long as they are accountable for results. This includes deciding how large a class should be on a case by case basis, how much to pay teachers on a case by case basis, etc. It also includes viewing factors as diverse as test scores, college completion rates, and parental satisfaction for determining accountability. We need to look at results in education, and leave process to the localities who actually know what the needs of their communities are.


  1. […] Links: The Instructivist entry, “Scores and class size,” that started me on this post; “Large classes, high scores” from Joanne Jacobs; and to my old graphic reprsentation of the class size effect size. […]