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Determining Class Size

Updated: Aug 27, 2019

One of the most demanding decisions administrators face, as they plan for the new school year, is determining class size. Even as the school year begins, administrators are still deciding how many students to assign each classroom. It is not unusual to experience a surge in enrollment the week before school opens, after you have already employed teachers and assigned rooms.

You might even face an increase in transfer students the first or second week of school. These are usually students who were in a Christian school the previous year and the parents did not feel that they were able to afford to return; instead, they decided to go to a public school. After one or two weeks in public school, the parents and students realized that it was well worth the financial sacrifice to be in a Christian school environment. The task of placing these students in already established classrooms can be challenging, especially when class size is questioned, or there is the need to divide an already existing grade level into more classrooms to accommodate increased enrollment. Having a waiting list can be considered an option, however, it does not meet the needs of those families wanting to get into your school. The sooner you can accommodate them, the greater the possibility that they will stay with you until graduation.

Proof of Quality

Although some schools offer small classes as proof of “quality” education, research has yet to substantiate a given class size is a guarantee of educational success of all children. While some authors indicate the ideal pupil-teacher ratio as 1:20, there will always be credentialed, experienced teachers who have challenges teaching fewer than twenty students. On the other hand, there are teachers who can successfully teach class sizes of thirty to thirty-five students.

I have found that the real key for the Christian school is not “how to arrange for smaller classes,” but rather, “how to hire teachers to manage larger classes in which they teach more efficiently and effectively.” (A.A. Baker) The success of a given classroom is always a result of the interaction of the teacher, the curriculum and the students and not just class size.

The Educational Research Service (ERS) found that in the early primary grades, smaller classes had a positive influence on reading and mathematics for students who were low-achieving and from economically or socially disadvantaged backgrounds. The general conclusion is, “unless the teacher changes teaching methods, reducing class size has no demonstrative advantage.” Class size configuration will not eliminate the need for teaching excellence, and for adjusting materials and methods to meet the needs of students.

Larger class sizes mean an increase in accountability for teachers who are already deeply engaged in lesson preparation, curriculum planning, sports, field trips, and grading—plus parent evening conferences and meetings. Thus, these teachers have little time for reflection, self-analysis, and feedback— important ingredients for successful instruction.

Economic Impact

Class size relates to staffing patterns that can be converted into real dollar costs. Philip Elve states, “A class size of thirty saves approximately 12 percent of the cost of a class of twenty-five.” Four classes of twenty-one could become three of twenty-six to twenty-seven and save one teacher's salary. Furthermore, increasing the average class size by three could save as much as 10 percent.

Although small class sizes may allow teachers to better manage students, class size configuration will not eliminate the need for teaching excellence and for adjusting materials and methods to meet the needs of students.

Effective school research over the past 20 years indicates factors other than class size as characteristics of high student achievement and morale. These characteristics include:

  • Vigorous instructional leadership.

  • A principal who makes clear, consistent and fair decisions.

  • An emphasis on discipline and a safe and orderly environment.

  • Instructional practices that focus on basic skills and academic achievement.

  • Collegiality among teachers in support of student achievement.

  • Teachers with high expectations that all their students can and will learn.

  • Frequent review of student progress.

Student-Teacher Ratio vs Student-Staff-Ratio

Consider this - There is a significant difference between “average class size” and “pupil/teacher ratio.” Some schools fall into the trap of comparing one ratio with the other, when in fact both calculations are different. “Average class size” is the average number of students in the classrooms of the school, whereas “pupil-teacher” ratio is the number of students in the school divided by the number of teachers.

The challenge with “average class size” is that it fails to reveal the diversity of class size. A school may have two classes, one of ten and another of forty; the average class size would be twenty-five. The challenge with “pupil/teacher ratio” is that it fails to consider staff other than teachers who have a significant impact upon the lives of your students, especially in Christian schools; for example, the administrator, guidance counselor, special teachers or chaplain. The answer is to use a “staff/student ratio.” This would take into account all professional staff who are involved in the day-to-day lives of the students.

One answer to the class size question is to keep classes as small as is economically possible, encouraging teachers to vary their instruction, plan for maximum student participation in discussions and accommodate various student learning styles. Furthermore, make every effort to raising a cadre of trained parent volunteers who can ease the load carried by teachers, freeing them to be more effective educators.

Concerning class sizes, allow the Holy Spirit to direct every decision rather than outside pressure. He is the one who knows what is best for each classroom, for each teacher and for your school.

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