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Volume 28, Number 3
May/June 2012

Class Size Revisited—Again

Limited research spurs experimentation with staffing


In a world filled with terms like “value-added” and “adequate yearly progress,” many parents still rely on a far simpler data point to assess a school’s quality: the number of students in the classroom. They feel, strongly, that their child stands to get more personal attention in a class of 17 students than in one of 27 and that smaller classes are less likely to get out of hand. According to a 2007 poll in the journal Education Next, more than three-quarters of parents would rather shrink classes than pay teachers more.

Smaller classes are wildly popular among teachers, too, for similar reasons. They say that with fewer students, they can control them better, give more personal attention, and assign and grade more complex work. Nadia Zananiri, who has about 35 students in her Advanced Placement world history class in Miami Beach, Fla., says, “Something is going to have to give . . . You can only humanly grade so many essays. This is a writing-heavy class, so the options are to assign fewer assignments or give less feedback.”

Yet with only limited research bolstering the case for class-size reduction, legislative mandates are fizzling out, and the topic has been all but dropped from public debates about how to improve schools.

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.


Also by this Author

    For Further Information

    For Further Information

    G. M. Bohrnstedt and B. M. Stecher, eds. What We Have Learned About Class Size Reduction in California. Sacramento, CA: California Department of Education, 2002. Available online at

    R. G. Ehrenberg, D. J. Brewer, A. Gamoran, and J. D. Willms. “Class Size and Student Achievement.” Psychological Science in the Public Interest 2, no. 1 (2001): 1–30.

    J. D. Finn and C. M. Achilles. “Tennessee’s Class Size Study: Findings, Implications, Misconceptions.” Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis 21, no. 2 (1999): 97–109.

    E. Graue, K. Hatch, K. Rao, and D. Oen. “The Wisdom of Class Size Reduction.” American Educational Research Journal 44, no. 3 (2007): 670–700.

    C. Milesi and A. Gamoran. “Effects of Class Size and Instruction on Kindergarten Achievement.” Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis 28, no. 4 (2006): 287–311.

    A. Molnar, P. Smith, and J. Zahorik. “Evaluating the SAGE Program: A Pilot Program in Targeted Pupil-Teacher Reduction in Wis­consin.” Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis 21, no. 2 (1999): 165–177.