What's at Stake
There have been many recent education studies concerning the impact of class size on student achievement. According to Helen Pate-Bain, Ed.D., director of Project STAR (The Student Teacher Achievement Ratio Study, a long-term study of reduced class size), the maximum class size in elementary school ought to be 15 to 18; in middle school 18 to 21; and in high school 22 to 26. (It's important to note that these are maximums; obviously smaller classes would be even more beneficial.)
Few states mandate such numbers, however. In some states there are no requirements for limiting class size at all, and in others, even the official limits far exceed the recommended maximums with 32 or more children not being unheard of in kindergarten. As states struggle with budget shortfalls, often the easiest ways to make cuts in the education budget is to jam more kids into each classroom.
The advantages of smaller classes are great: more individualized instruction, fewer discipline problems, greater opportunities for enrichment activities like group projects, a happier class atmosphere. In addition, says Pate-Bain, research shows that children in smaller classes develop a more positive self-image: "When a teacher gives a child a lot of individual attention, he learns to believe he can achieve great things."
Ironically, there's a direct correlation between small class size and higher standardized test scores in the lower grades, as well, says Deborah Diffily. Just when there's a national push to raise test scores, in many cases, there's also a statewide push to cut the education budget.