Class sizes grow

Class sizes are growing to balance school budgets, reports AP.  According to one estimate, 44 percent of districts are increasing class sizes.

In Los Angeles, K-3 classes will rise from 20 to 24 students, middle school classes to 35 and 11th and 12th grade classes to 43.

A Tennessee study showed long-term gains for classes of 14 to 17 students in the early grades, especially for blacks. However, small classes in higher grades don’t produce significant performance gains, says researcher Eric Hanushek.

“All the research suggests the number of kids is much less important than who is teaching the class,” said Hanushek, a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. “In the face of budget problems, allowing class size to move a little bit makes all the sense in the world.”

“In fact, to the extent you put ineffective teachers into classrooms, you’re much better off by keeping larger classes with effective teachers,” he said.

However, layoffs are based on seniority, not effectiveness, so there’s no guarantee the larger classes will be taught by good teachers, AP notes.  Senior teachers may be shifted to assignments for which they’re not well-suited.

About Joanne


  1. dangermom says:

    Our local school district is doing this. In CA, schools get extra money if they keep K-3 classes at a maximum of 20, but the money isn’t really enough to cover the costs, so it’s being given up. They’re saying the classes will have 30+ children (up to 35, I think), and there’s not much certainty about who will be teaching what grade–it probably won’t settle down for a couple of weeks into the school year. That’s only for the younger kids; the older ones will be in larger classes as well, but I don’t know the numbers.

    My friends with kids in public school aren’t looking forward to it. A couple are considering homeschooling if it doesn’t work out well. I’m already homeschooling, so I just listen sympathetically.

  2. How would Eric Hanushek, an economist who has never taught a day in his life, know that class size doesn’t have any effects?

    Another case of an “expert” spouting off at the mouth and Joanne giving him a mouthpiece.

  3. Mark Roulo says:

    How would Eric Hanushek, an economist who has never taught a day in his life, know that class size doesn’t have any effects?

    Since he doesn’t claim that class size doesn’t have any effects, does it matter whether or not he has taught?

    -Mark Roulo

  4. I’m in LAUSD. In English we had caps on 9th and 11th grade up until now. Class size used to be capped at 25. So if you think about this closely, a teacher who has always taught 11th isn’t going from 35 to 43. They are going from 25 to 43 (worst case scenario). Now, multiply that by 5 or 6 periods (my school we have 8 periods and teach 6). So in my case, hypothetically speaking, my numbers would change as follows. Luckily though, my school is (supposedly) committed to keeping our numbers lower than the caps.

    Last year-2 10th grade classes = 60 kids
    Last year-4 11th grade classes = (apx)92 kids

    This year, if things go as the article and district are saying:

    2 10th grade classes = 70
    4 11th grade classes = 172

    These changes aren’t just adding 15 or 20 kids a year. We’re talking BIG numbers.

    Last year I had apx 152 total students.
    This year could be as bad as 242, that’s a difference of 70 more kids.

    Let’s see, 242 multiplied by 3 page essays. NO wonder teachers leave this profession.

  5. Mark Roulo says:


    Unrelated to my last post in this thread …

    do you have any idea how a 10% budget cut could result in roughly a 50% increase in teaching load? I can’t claim that I am surprised (because very little surprises me about school budgeting). I just don’t understand …

    This kinda suggests that a 10% drop in funding results in laying off 33% of the teachers. Which implies that only 30% of the budget was going to teachers (salary plus benefits) and that none of the rest of the budget is touchable. Any idea if this is the case?

    -Mark Roulo

  6. Marc,

    From the article:

    Researcher Eric Hanushek called it “kind of silly” that advocates still rely on 20-year-old data from Tennessee. He pointed to other studies that showed small to negligible benefits for kids in small classes.

    To me that’s Hanushek saying class size doesn’t matter. Of course, only an economist would denigrate VALID research and instead rely on studies he didn’t even mention.

    Are we supposed to believe he’s right b/c he says he’s right?

    How about a quote from an ACTUAL teacher?

    “We’re being forced to make decisions that we know are not good for kids”

  7. The optimum class size for a 45 minute period is between 18 and 25. As your class gets bigger, you can still teach but the number of kids who “get along without much give and take from the teacher” grows.

    The community needs to ask itself “How many kids do you want to that way?”

    Classes can be held in the auditorium with numbers ranging upwards of 100 for older students – they’ll be taking them next year as college freshmen, too. There won’t be much beyond the presentation, but that’s the choice you make as a community. The taxpayers made the choice. Until the state Supreme Court forces them to change their minds (as happened some years ago both in Vermont and then here in New Hampshire), that’s what the community is going to do.

    Teachers should adapt and move on. More scantron tests and multiple choice tests, for one thing. Allow fewer excuses and tolerate less sloppiness. Late work is ignored. Three tests and a final make up the whole grade. Shift more of the “grading” to Internet quizzes that are scored immediately.

    It’s not the best way to teach but the customers have spoken.

  8. tim-10-ber says:

    Yep — good ole Tennessee; that study gets quoted a lot even today — obviously. Tennessee is also raising its class sizes. We also fire teachers based on seniority not effectiveness. We are so dumb!!! Finally raising our standards this year via the Diploma Project. Just what is it and how good is it..truly?
    I find it harder and harder to trust anyone in education….still I try to make a difference…

  9. Mark–the 10% cut in funding equaling a 30-33% cut in teachers held true for my district. Where’s the money going?

    Well, shortly before the funding crisis, my district went from one assistant superintendent to three. None of those people are getting cut. None of the core personnel at district office proper have been cut–all of the administrative cuts have either been at the building level, or else head positions of functions which will probably be outsourced to private companies as union contracts expire (food service, janitorial/maintenance). The positions that remain untouched are Curriculum/Instruction (which is pursuing a new textbook adoption in spite of the current financial issues), Human Resources, and Accounting. While they’ve taken a minimal wage freeze, we’ve been asked to give up ten days over the next two years. Percentage-wise, it’s not quite the same.

    So my short answer is–the money is going where the money always goes, which is to the upper levels of administration and what they consider to be a priority, instead of serving students.

  10. Kevin Smith says:

    One issue rearely raised in the “raise class size” debate is HOW BIG ARE THE ROOMS? You could only get 43 kids in my schools science rooms if you stack them up and ban any effort to move during class…..

  11. I’d like to see this guy come in and try to teach a class of 35 16-year-old boys who are nearly sitting on top of each other — and emerge alive.

  12. CA Teacher says:

    Maybe STUDENTS can maintain in larger classes, but at the elementary level, teachers can’t keep up that pace for long. It’s just not a reasonable expectation.

  13. Charles R. Williams says:

    An acquaintance of mine had been a teacher in Ghana. 43 students per class was standard. He said discipline was not an issue. The students understood that there was always someone to take their place.

    In my k-8 elementary school class sizes were always 35-36. I have the photos to prove it. The parochial school down the road got better results with 50 students per class.

    What has changed? What makes a difference? I think it’s a matter of culture.

    We have probably reached the upper limit of our ability and willingness to pay ever more money to compensate for the weaknesses that students are bringing to our schools.

  14. Mark, I work in LAUSD which means your question is VERY complex. We get, almost weekly and sometimes multiple times a week, automated calls from both the Superintendant and the UTLA pres. They are ALWAYS battling each other.

    One reason, in my specific case, that the numbers hypothetically could increase so much is that last year my classes were smaller than average. Here’s an example of what’s happening, just a glimpse looking at my department in my specific STEM program.

    My school is brand new, we opened our doors last September. We opened with grades 9th – 11th and three English teachers for my Small Learning Community. In the English department we had three English teachers for all three grade levels. This year we will also have seniors but we’re not hiring another English teacher. This isn’t because my AP doesn’t want one, this is because LAUSD has set the norms and we were not given one.

    The good news is that my SLC has voted to become a Pilot school based on the Boston Pilot School model. We will transition to a full pilot over the next two years. As a pilot, we are still part of LAUSD and UTLA, we still have to follow all state regulations but have autonomies over district things such as budget, staffing, curriculum, scheduling, and governance. Hopefully with this model we can create the ideal school and budget our money to hire extra teachers in order to lower class sizes. This has been done in apx 5 other LAUSD schools to much success and over 25 schools in Boston.

  15. Mark Roulo says:

    Tamara and joycem,


    -Mark R.

  16. Mark G. says:

    Charles R. Williams: you hit the nail on the head…it is our culture. Theoretically, we could cram 50 kids in a room–space permitting–and kids would emerge educated. It happens in other cultures, at the undergraduate level, and in days of yore…why not now.

    You also mention the “weaknesses our students are brining to our schools.” Sadly, those are things we cannot control…poverty, malnourishment, abuse, no repertoire of self advocacy or study skills…the gamut. In our culture, THOSE “weaker” kids are the ones who will flounder and be “the child left behind” when the seams of the classroom are about the burst. In other cultures (including private schools) those kids are fewer and further between.

  17. I think this conversation isn’t black and white. Perhaps in a private school where kids are growing up with (hypothetically) parental support, can afford school supplies, have discipline, and have a college going culture at home; perhaps these kids would do well in larger classes like I had at SDSU. However, come to where I teach in an urban inner city setting. My students have different needs. They have different strengths, and even different weaknesses. All is not equal. Culture, family involvement, and simple financial aspects of home come into play as far as who is successful and in what atmosphere. Maybe we need to reverse the private/public school thing. Private schools should have LARGE classes. Public schools small since those kids need the attention more often than not.