Education, News

Are Smaller Classes Better for Students?

Though the debate over class size is ongoing, research, in general, indicates that students tend to learn better in smaller environments. Yet, as state budgets are cut, class sizes are only increasing.

Teacher and students

Why Smaller Class Sizes?

Since the 1970s, research has suggested that smaller class sizes lead to higher academic achievement in some situations, according to the Center for Public Education. Smaller classes are particularly beneficial when students are in elementary school and when they are in a small setting for more than one year. The ideal size seems to be about 15 to 18 students. The following benefits seem to be related to small class size:

  • Higher test scores in reading and math from K-3
  • When students are in smaller classes when they are young, they retain the benefits for years later
  • Young students in small classes learn at a faster pace
  • Smaller classes can help close the achievement gap by catching up students who start off behind
  • Students get more one-on-one time with teachers
  • Greater retention powers of earlier lessons and material

In order to get the most out of smaller classes, teachers may need to change their teaching style to incorporate more feedback and less lecture-style instruction. Shrinking class size alone isn’t the only element, according to Education Week.

When Bigger is Better, Or Just as Good

At the collegiate level, research suggests students in large classes learn just as much as those in small ones, according to an MNSU study. Other research indicates the quality of the teacher can be even more important than the size of the class — thus, the best instructors should teach the largest classes.

The MNSU study finds indications that, in terms of acquiring facts and specific course-related information, large classes are on par with smaller ones. Additionally, students with higher G.P.A.s tend to be drawn to smaller classes, rather than larger ones.

Yet, let us not forget one of the strongest arguments for having, or even increasing class size: money. It is estimated that, nationally, $6 billion could be saved if just one student was added to each classroom. Increasing class size would also mean fewer teachers and teacher aides.


Despite the benefits, a budget gap makes it difficult to hire the teachers needed to ensure smaller learning environments.Money will continue to play an important role in determining the size of classrooms.  Some districts are finding creative ways to make sure students get more individualized instruction including co-teaching and restructured scheduling as budgets shrink.

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The Author

Mary Brown

Mary Brown

Mary Brown has enjoyed writing about education and finance related topics, such as scholarships, student loans, college, vocational degree choices, and adult education since the early 2000's. She also writes about school budgets, accreditation and fundraising.