Does class size matter? Research says “yes”

New research confirms what Utah parents may have suspected: Larger student-teacher ratios aren't the best for student learning. Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education.

SALT LAKE CITY – As school districts across Utah continue to cope with dwindling budgets, new research examines the impact of class size and the role crowded classrooms can play in students’ educational outcomes.

In <a href=”” target=”parent”>a new policy brief</a>, Diane Schanzenbach, associate professor of human development and social policy at Northwestern University, points out that having a manageable class size really does make a difference in how well students do in school.

“Much in line with parents’ common sense and what teachers know,” she said, “smaller classes mean that children learn more, they have better achievement and better lifetime outcomes if they’re in smaller classes.”

Student-teacher ratios in public schools fell steadily for about 40 years – until recently, she said. In the past five years, the average class size in the United States has increased 5 percent, to almost 22 students per classroom. In Utah elementary schools, it’s slightly more than 24 students.

While lower class size may cost districts more in the short term, Schanzenbach said, it may prove to be the more cost-effective policy overall.

“We have to be very careful with our resources, especially when the economy is bad, but we can’t forget that investing in high-quality schools is an investment that’s going to pay off over the long term,” she said. “We shouldn’t do something today that’s penny wise and pound foolish, like increasing class sizes.”

Schanzenbach said her research has determined that reducing class sizes to 18 to 20 students will pay for itself in terms of improvements in children’s future well-being.

The brief, “Does Class Size Matter?” is published by the National Education Policy Center and is online at <a href=”” target=”parent”></a>.

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