In response to tight budgets, a third of elementary districts are raising class sizes, reversing a trend.
Nationwide, the average number of students in elementary classes dropped from 29 in 1961 to 24 in 1996, according to the National Education Association. In 2004, the average elementary class nationwide had 20 children, the U.S. Education Department says, with about 25 in the average secondary class.
Research shows significant, long-term gains for students taught in very small classes – 14 to 17 students — in kindergarten and first grade. When classes go from 27 to 24 to 21 students, or vice versa, there’s little or no difference in achievement but a very large difference in costs.
As a baby boomer in the ’50 and ’60s, I was taught in elementary classes of 26 to 29 students, except for fifth grade: 37 students taught by a first-year teacher. In junior high and high school, 32 to 38 students was typical. Of course, we were a lot easier to manage than today’s kids.