Whatever happened to class size?

TRUE CONFESSION: I used to be a teacher. I taught adults, not children, but I do like to think that my skills as an adult educator, on occasion, paralleled the skills of today’s school teachers. For example, I could easily project my voice across a large room (a skill particularly valuable at children’s parties). I also found myself getting increasingly adept at reading people. I started to pick up on subtle signs when a person was struggling with a particular subject, even if that same person swore up and down the avenue that he/she was perfectly fine. I could tell when people were getting bored. I could see if a person wasn’t exactly all there (and THAT could take up an entire blog post in itself).

As I “read the room”, I could alter my instruction accordingly to make sure that the majority of the class continued to be engaged in the subject. However, if I was assigned a particularly large class, it became difficult for me to pick up on signs of trouble. If it was a particularly disastrous day, a class would careen towards chaos and nothing would get done. I really hated those days.

So it is admittedly with some bias that I present to you data on average class size. Some people, including Bill Gates and Arne Duncan, openly question if class size is relevant in determining the quality of an education. Theoretically, one awesome teacher teaching 30 students could generate better results than two “meh” teachers teaching 15 students each. The Center for Public Education conducted a research review about this topic that you might find worth your while.

Two things of note about this indicator:

  • It’s one of the first things we look at when we’re seeing how school budget cuts are impacting students. Larger class sizes can indicate that the school doesn’t have the financial resources to staff schools accordingly.
  • Changes in class size may also be an indication that the student population is either rising or falling.
  • Average class size should not be confused with teacher/student ratios. For New York State, average class size is calculated by taking the total number of students in self-contained classes and dividing them by total number of those classes. Especially in the younger grades, you may have more than one teacher assigned to a single self-contained class – average class size does not reflect this.

Some Westchester County class size (Grades 1-6) specifics:

  • In 2013, the Yonkers school district had the largest average class size at 26 students. Pocantico Hills had the lowest average class size – 13 students a class.
  • Ardsley encountered the largest increase in class size from 2011 to 2013, from 20 to 23. North Salem encountered the greatest reduction during the same time period, from 21 to 17.
  • 16 school districts had an increase in class size. 17 school districts had no change at all. 12 school districts had a decrease in class size.