Classroom Size Misunderstandings

Before concluding these necessarily very sketchy suggestions, I ought to say why I think it necessary, in these days, to go back to a discipline which we had discarded. The truth is that for the last 300 years or so we have been living upon our educational capital. The post-Renaissance world, bewildered and excited by the profusion of new “subjects” offered to it, broke away from the old discipline (which had, indeed, become sadly dull and stereotyped in its practical application) and imagined that henceforward it could, as it were, disport itself happily in its new and extended Quadrivium without passing through the Trivium. 


But one cannot live on capital forever. A tradition, however firmly rooted, if it is never watered, though it dies hard, yet in the end it dies. And to-day a great number—perhaps the majority—of the men and women who handle our affairs, write our books and our newspapers, carry out research, present our plays and our films, speak from our platforms and pulpits—yes, and who educate our young people, have never, even in a lingering traditional memory, undergone the scholastic discipline. Less and less do the children who come to be educated bring any of that tradition with them. We have lost the tools of learning—the axe and the wedge, the hammer and the saw, the chisel and the plane—that were so adaptable to all tasks. Instead of them, we have merely a set of complicated jigs, each of which will do but one task and no more, and in using which eye and hand receive no training, so that no man ever sees the work as a whole or “looks to the end of the work.” What use is it to pile task on task and prolong the days of labour, if at the close the chief object is left unattained? It is not the fault of the teachers—they work only too hard already. The combined folly of a civilisation that has forgotten its own roots is forcing them to shore up the tottering weight of an educational structure that is built upon sand. They are doing for their pupils the work which the pupils themselves ought to do. For the sole true end of education is simply this: to teach men how to learn for themselves; and whatever instruction fails to do this is effort spent in vain.


I am posting this because I wanted in one place some information on the classroom size, or, teacher-to-pupil-ration throughout some of our recent history. As well as compared to the world. Also, part of the reasoning for this post other than I have debated/discussed this matter over the years is a recent article I have seen on a couple friends Facebook walls, entitled: “Betsy DeVos Wants Larger Class Sizes and Fewer Teachers.” So I wanted to have the reasoning and history of the other side… BUT FIRST…

Let me say… that classrooms in our history were filled with children — even in the public schools — that came from deeply religious backgrounds. So that the student was acting in the sight of God. Not only that, but ost families remained intact, either through devotion to faith or the impracticality of divorce. There are other reasons as well, but this list of teacher complaints from the 1940’s has been for years in my history bank of memory (via NATIONAL PARENTS ORGANIZATION):

So often I write about the effects of fatherlessness. Being who I am, I tend to express myself from the standpoint of the social science on the matter. I’ll point out that children raised without both parents tend more to commit crimes, abuse drugs and alcohol, drop out of school, be unemployed, etc. than their peers raised in intact families. I say that because it’s true. I know it’s true because decades of social science establish the facts. Fine.

But occasionally, something comes along that hits the nail harder than I do (Meridian Star, 4/21/16).

I read that in a survey of public school teachers in 1940, the top disciplinary problems listed included talking out of turn, chewing gum, running in the halls, dress-code violations, and littering. More than a half century later, the problems teachers contend with are drug and alcohol abuse, pregnancy, suicide, rape, robbery, and assault. Teachers and administrators say that things are worse for students now than ever before. One junior high school teacher commented, “I can’t believe the things they do to themselves and to each other.” A kindergarten teacher recently told me that her five and six year old students are restless, angry, and some even have the addictive habit of cutting themselves. A grandmother told me that her grandson, whom she is raising, has admitted to having suicidal thoughts. He is ten years old.

What a comparison. What teacher today wouldn’t fall on her knees and shout Hosannas to have the problems teachers did in 1940? “Andy, is that gum in your mouth?” “Yes, teacher.” “Go to the principal’s office!” Can anyone even imagine?

Of course, many things have changed since FDR was in office, so there’s no single trend we can point to that’s caused the drastic change in our children and the world they face every day. But one of the main things that’s changed for kids is that so many of them have either no father in their lives or one who’s so remote as to be ineffective at being the father they need. Fatherlessness produces exactly the type of dysfunctional behavior in children that we see every day to our dismay and that the Meridian Star writer so aptly describes……

So, really, teachers can never have a classroom small enough to fix students from backgrounds like these, or our culture. Which is a great spot for Larry Elder, who quotes Barack Obama:


Okay, the above reasons (there are more obviously [sex-ed has played a big roll as well, so has quick divorce laws, etc], but those are biggies: religion, discipline, family intact) notes some of the acting out by our culture which is becoming more secular as I type. Even in secular countries we see discipline as holding together the fabric of the classroom, more on this later.

Here is an article from the ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER that introduces us to some of the issues of classroom size (I will add a graphic from another article to help the point):

Under the leadership of its combative President Alex Caputo-Pearl, the United Teachers of Los Angeles is planning to strike, very possibly in January. The union has a laundry list of demands, some of which the Los Angeles Unified School District has agreed to, in part. But unlike the union, LAUSD is constrained by fiscal realities, and has county and state auditors waiting to pounce if it missteps.

UTLA’s main order of business — not surprisingly — is a salary increase for its teachers. But a close second is the class-size issue. The union is calling for an across-the-board cut, while the district is offering to reduce class size in 90 “high-need” schools. According to the latest data, the pupil-to-teacher ratio in Los Angeles is 19.7, not exactly an unreasonable number. While that is above the national average of 14.5 to one, it is far below the 1955 level when the ratio of teachers to students in public schools was 26.9 to one.

As a former teacher, I know that a small class makes life easier — fewer papers to grade and parents to deal with, for example. That said, there is no evidence that it makes any difference in student learning. In fact, a massive meta-analysis — results from multiple studies – was released in October that shows that small class size is a red herring. The report, produced by the Danish Centre of Applied Social Science examined 127 studies, eliminating many that did not meet strict research requirements. The researchers found that there may be tiny benefits to small classes for some students when it comes to reading. But in math, it found no benefits at all, and the researchers “cannot rule out the possibility that small classes may be counterproductive for some students.”

So 127 studies later, it’s basically a wash. The Danish analysis did nothing more than underscore Hoover Institution economist Eric Hanushek’s results of his class-size research in 1998. Examining 277 separate studies on the effect of teacher-pupil ratios and class-size averages on student achievement, he reported that 15 percent of the studies found an improvement in achievement, while 72 percent found no effect at all and 13 percent found that reducing class size had a negative effect on achievement. While Hanushek admits that in some cases, children might benefit from a small-class environment, there is no way “to describe a priori situations where reduced class size will be beneficial.”

In his 2018 book “World Class,” Andreas Schleicher, director of the education and skills unit at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, debunks the myth that smaller classes yield better results. He points out that top-performing nations, such as Japan, South Korea and China tend to have much larger classes than we do, yet manage to produce more successful students.

Additionally, EdChoice researcher and economics professor Benjamin Scafidi found that between 1950 and 2015, the number of teachers increased about 2.5 times as fast as the uptick in students. He adds that despite the staffing surge, students’ academic achievement has stagnated or even fallen over the past several decades……

The above graphic comparing historical class sizes comes from an article at THE HERITAGE FOUNDATION, to wit is a section I wish to highlight:

Growth in Staffing Far Outpacing Student Population. In addition to increases in non-teaching staff positions, more teachers are also now teaching fewer students. From the nine years spanning the 1997–98 school year to the 2006–07 school year, student enrollment in public schools increased 6.8 percent. Over the same time period, the number of teachers in the classroom increased 15.8 percent.[7]

Student-teacher ratios have been on the decline since the mid-20th century. In 1950 for example, there were 27.5 students for every one teacher; by 2006 that number had declined to 15.5 students for every public school teacher.[8] For high school students during the 2006-07 school year, the average student-teacher ratio was just 12:1.[9]

While public schools and districts throughout the country continue to reduce class size, there is little evidence that such reductions have improved student learning. For instance, Florida began implementing sweeping education reforms in 1998, including strong state standards, the transition to an “A–F” system for grading schools, ending “social promotion,” and alternative teacher certification.[10] These systemic education reforms appear to have had a positive impact on student achievement, particularly minority students. However, a 2002 reform to reduce class size found “no detectable benefit” of the class-size mandate and found that “monies restricted for the purpose of funding class-size reduction mandates are not a productive use of limited educational resources.”[11]

In other words… where is the beef. In fact, *Dr. Wilda V. Heard

* Dr. Wilda V. Heard, or “Dr. Wilda,” has a J.D. from Yale Law School and a doctorate in education leadership from Seattle University. She has been a volunteer at Legal Voice, formerly the Northwest Women’s Law Center. 

quotes Bob Nave saying: “It’s fairly common sense that smaller classes should result in improved student performance…. The problem is the research just doesn’t back that up.”

Here are some graphs to help visualize this topic. The first is noting that classroom sizes are pretty close to a historical low:

Here are primary averages compared to the world:

Of course China has the the largest classrooms (students to teacher ratio)… BUT… #2 is…

Singapore is a lot smaller than China with a population of 5.399 million (2013), but it’s class sizes are not far behind them. However, despite the larger class sizes, it was stated by the OECD in 2015, that Singapore actually has one of the best education systems in the world.

Fun fact: Singapore schools are all taught in English as well as their native tongue. This means that Singapore has one of the highest fluency rates of English in South-East Asia.


In other words… class size is not the issue. It is what you are teaching and the culture of learning. Instead, the public schools are centered not around teaching classical education, but making sure that what is taught is separating us as a body-politic. A good example of this comes from the ST. PAUL STAR TRIBUNE:

Students from several groups at South St. Paul Secondary— including the Black Pride Organization, Comunidad de Latinos Unidos, the Women’s Society and the Sexuality and Gender Alliance (SAGA), a group for LGBT students — want to wear sashes, also called stoles, to celebrate their identities.

Immigrants, gay students and students of color face extra obstacles during their education, said Jenaye Vergin, a junior and one of four students who addressed the board.

Allowing students to wear the special sashes would “give energy to a collective voice,” Vergin said. “I’m able to repurpose what was once an obstacle into a source of energy and pride.”

Dennis Prager discusses some cultural Marxist ideals being fomented and allowed in our public school system. This “disuniting” of people is happening everywhere in culture. “E Pluribus Unum” no more, it is “E Pluribus Pluribus.” Race, class, gender. Whole books are forced upon college persons wanting to get an education degree.

I would want sashes then to display straight pride, #MAGA, the Grand Ol’ Party… if this is allowed “white pride ” then would be something kids would naturally gravitate towards if not having the schools unite them in what it means to be American.

But as long as alternative curriculum is allowed from Kindergarten on… our