Creating a More Just and Merciful World
Impact of COVID On The Conversation About Class Size
The topics of class size and student-teacher ratios in K-12 education have stirred debate for decades. But most recently, the widespread adoption of virtual learning induced by the coronavirus pandemic has added another aspect to the conversation.
Supporters of class-size limits include teachers, parents and lawmakers. They believe smaller class sizes can enhance student learning. For example, teachers with smaller classes can dedicate more one-on-one time to each student. Individualized attention could be especially beneficial for students today, as many were affected by school restrictions and closures during the pandemic.
Weighing the Benefits and Risks of Small Class Sizes
According to the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), the percentage of districts that have set a class-size limit for any grade or subject grew from 68 percent in 2016 to 87 percent in 2021—a notable increase. This trend comes amid increasing legislative actions, particularly at the state level.
At least 25 states mandate class-size restrictions for some grades in kindergarten through high school, while an additional seven states set class-size goals or incentives for school districts, according to 2019 NCTQ data. Additionally, recent federal relief funding could provide school districts the opportunity to decrease the number of students in classes.
However, maintaining small class sizes comes at a cost, however, causing many states and districts to reconsider their policies.
One such cost is related to employing enough teachers so that all classes have no more than a certain number of students. A 2019 report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) titled “How much would it cost to reduce class size by one student?” examined the costs associated with decreasing class sizes and the trade-off between smaller classes and higher teacher salaries. According to the report, funding the additional teachers needed to reduce the average class size by one student could raise the average cost per student by nearly $300 per year across OECD countries.
Other costs stem from adjusting school buildings and classroom space, as well as providing additional materials.
Proponents of reductions justify the costs based on the belief that student learning is enhanced in smaller classes. But the research on the benefits of small class sizes is mixed, with many studies suggesting only some students under certain circumstances can truly benefit. For example, smaller class sizes might boost academic achievement for younger children and students who are disadvantaged. According to the research, the benefits for educators and students in these circumstances include:
- Teachers can provide more personalized attention to students.
- Teachers have more flexibility to apply different instructional methods.
- Fewer students mean fewer distractions.
- Educators have more time to teach because there are fewer discipline problems to deal with.
- Student participation in class increases.
- Teachers can cover more material and enrichment activities.
Arguments Against Smaller Class Sizes
Opponents of reducing class sizes say that although smaller classes may benefit younger children and those in need, the costs to reduce class sizes are too high for too few benefits. Instead, those who oppose class reductions recommend more focus on reform measures, such as higher academic standards, more challenging curricula, more qualified teachers and more support for teachers.
They also point out the side effects of smaller classes. Additional classrooms that require construction or renovation, and the risk of hiring unqualified teachers in order to meet the need for more teachers are two concerns.
Keeping Up with Trends in Education
The class-size debate will likely continue for years to come. Creating appropriately sized classes is not an easy task, and requires a thorough examination of the benefits and associated costs.One thing is for certain: Qualified educators will be needed to improve education for all children. You can gain the skills and knowledge necessary to shape younger generations and provide them with the education they need to succeed. Prepare to grow in your education career by pursuing a Master of Education in Educational Leadership at Carlow University, where you can learn to lead schools as they face current classroom trends.