Class Size – Part III – Class Sizes: A Different Experience for Students Across the United States

Studies have shown that the overall educational experience for students in the United States can be drastically different depending on which school a student attends.

Generally speaking, students who attend suburban public schools or private schools are much more likely to benefit from more experienced teachers, better educational resources, and safer buildings than their rural and urban counterparts.

But how does the location of a school affect class sizes within a given state?

To answer that question, we’ve gone back to look at the data. And the results may or may not surprise you.

When it comes to having the smallest class sizes, private schools win that competition hands down.

According to the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES), while private schools tend to be a lot smaller than public schools in the same area, they also have a much lower pupil-to-teacher ratio. In recent years, states with an average of 25 students per class in the public schools had an average of only 19 students per class in the private schools.

After that it gets tricky. Because, generally speaking, class sizes are lowest in rural districts, followed by suburban districts, and then urban districts. And this holds true even when you account for other factors like whether or not the building is a traditional school or a charter.

But, interestingly enough, the poverty level in a particular building can really impact the number of students each teacher has on their roster.

The more students at or below the poverty level in a particular building, the more likely those teachers will have much larger class sizes. And when you look at some of the states known for having crowded classrooms, like Utah, California, and Michigan, the average can easily exceed 40 students per classroom.

The likelihood of a disadvantaged student being in an overcrowded classroom also goes up when they attend school in an urban setting, if they are Black or Latino, as they move on to higher grade levels, and if they’re considered to be a lower achieving student.

So, in essence, the students who are more likely to have inexperienced teachers, fewer educational resources, and unsafe building conditions are also the same students who are much more likely to be packed into crowded classrooms.

And that’s exactly why you see an increase in school violence, bullying, dropping out, and failure within buildings that are known to have larger class sizes along with higher rates of teacher burnout and turnover.

Because when you take disadvantaged, high-needs students and pack them into classrooms, you simply can’t expect to have the same results as you would in a smaller environment with more training and better resources. And you can’t expect teachers to feel appreciated and stay employed in a district long-term without smaller class sizes and a supportive administration to back them up.

Sadly, larger class sizes have been trending upwards for decades in the United States. And it’s the kids who suffer from it most.